A California state judge has ordered quick, dramatic action to fix a crisis at several Los Angeles high schools where administrative ineptitude has kept students out of the classes they need to graduate.
Superior Court judge George Hernandez Jr. ruled Wednesday that thousands of California high schoolers are suffering “severe and pervasive educational deprivations” after school scheduling software went haywire and kept students out of classes they needed to graduate while assigning them useless study halls or having them repeat classes they had already passed.
A lawsuit filed by the ACLU, Public Counsel, and several other groups had filed a lawsuit detailing colossal organizational failures at nine California high schools.
At Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, which was the centerpiece of the lawsuit, hundreds of students were assigned to study halls, “adult” classes that had no instructors, or even “home” periods in which they were told to leave the school.
Other students were crammed into hopelessly overcrowded classes which lacked sufficient desks for every student.
One of the named plaintiffs, Jason Magana, said he was forced to retake a graphic design class he had already passed while being kept out of an economics course that he needed to pass in order to graduate.
Some students told local news sources that a few of their classmates had grown so frustrated they simply stopped coming to school.
Despite knowing the severity of the problem, school officials took no large-scale action to fix it for two months.
Hernandez’s ruling found that the dereliction of duty was so severe that it violated California’s constitutional guarantee that all students have access to equal educational opportunities. He also ruled that the problem was so pressing that the California Department of Education must immediately collaborate with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to create a plan of action.
He gave the state only until Tuesday to craft its plan. Officials must immediately identify every students who has been given too many empty class periods or who has been kept out of required courses, and provide them with extra instructional resources to help them catch up with the weeks of instructional time they have missed. If LAUSD lacks the funds needed to make this happen, then the state must immediately supply them with more, he wrote.
California state superintendent Tom Torlakson had tried to argue that scheduling issues were exclusively the domain of local school districts, and not the state. In a case of such gross negligence, Hernandez wrote, that explanation doesn’t fly.
The ACLU has argued that the troubles at Jefferson, where over 90 percent of students are Hispanic, show a systematic inattention to the educational needs of minority and low-income students in the state.
The ruling is egg on the face of LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, whose contract is up this month for renewal by the district’s school board, with widespread speculation he may be fired. While Deasy released a statement supporting the lawsuit, critics have asked why the practices were allowed to proliferate at schools under Deasy’s control when he claimed to be aware of the problem.
“I find it hard to fathom that our superintendent would know of these issues and need a court order to fix them,” school board member Monica Ratliff told the Los Angeles Times.
Deasy has countered that he was prevented from fixing the problem by LAUSD’s bureaucracy, and said he hopes a court order will compel changes to be made.
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