Seven families filed a lawsuit against California on Monday that claims the state failed to provide “basic educational equality” for children of color from low-income backgrounds during the pandemic.
The lawsuit alleges the state has not provided students or teachers with the devices, internet connection, training and support needed for remote learning. It asks the court to rule that the state’s education authorities violated students’ constitutional right to an education and that they must correct the inequities with the help of minority families and community organizations.
“The state continues to refuse to step up and meet its constitutional obligation to ensure basic educational equality or indeed any education at all,” the lawsuit claims.
The plaintiffs are 15 “economically disadvantaged people of color” from kindergarten through high school who attend school in Oakland and Los Angeles.
The lawsuit says teachers at a school in the Oakland Unified School District held class only twice from March 17 to the end of the school year for two Black twins in second grade. When their mother asked why, a teacher said classes were canceled because not everyone could connect to the internet. The mother said that left her feeling “like her children had been written off.”
The family of another student, a Latina kindergartner in South Los Angeles, alleged Los Angeles Unified School District provided computers that did not work, forcing the girl to use her parents’ phones for class. Although she got a laptop from the nonprofit Community Coalition, she is waiting for a wireless hot spot, and her mother pays out of pocket for all other basic school supplies, the lawsuit says.
The Community Coalition and Oakland REACH, a parent-led nonprofit organization that created a virtual learning hub for underserved students in the spring, are also named as plaintiffs. The suit claims the state left community groups and families to expend considerable resources to provide families with computers and hot spots as well as emotional and social support for students.
The suit claims the state’s failure to meet the needs of homeless students and those who do not speak English exacerbates disparities and leaves some poor Black and Latino children “functionally unable to attend school.”
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California, the state Board of Education, the Department of Education and state Superintendent Tony Thurmond are named as defendants.
Thurmond said in a statement that his team prioritized addressing the access gaps that disproportionately affect those vulnerable to historic and systemic inequities.
“Since the spring we have secured hundreds of thousands of computing devices for students, pressured internet service providers to expand access, bolstered mental health and counseling resources, made it easier for schools to provide meals, and provided published guidance and dozens of training opportunities for educators to strengthen distance learning for our highest-need students,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said its legal team had not reviewed the lawsuit and couldn’t provide comment.
“Throughout the pandemic, this administration has taken important actions to protect student learning while also taking necessary steps to protect public health. We will defend our position in court,” Jesse Melgar, a spokesman for the governor, said in a statement to mediaoutlets.
The state Board of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Attorney Jesselyn Friley told the Los Angeles Times the lawsuit asked the court for extra education to address losses students suffered.
“There will need to be a huge effort to get those kids back on track and make sure that not only do we go back to ‘normal’ but that the damage that’s been done by this period is undone,” Friley told the outlet.