Photo: Louis Freedberg/California Watch
October 7, 2010 | The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education approved an landmark agreement on Tuesday that could spare up to 45 schools in high-poverty areas from teacher layoffs and possibly fuel efforts elsewhere to protect vulnerable students from budget-related personnel cuts.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the board decision settles a lawsuit accusing the Los Angeles Unified School District of violating the constitutional rights of students to a fair and equal education by imposing massive teacher layoffs and budget cuts at schools that were already struggling.
Filed in February by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, the Public Counsel Law Center and the firm of Morrison & Foerster LLP, the suit alleged widespread disarray after the district dismissed nearly two-thirds of the teachers at three of the city's worst-performing middle schools: Samuel Gompers, Edwin Markham and John H. Liechty.
According to the Los Angeles Times:
Some replacement teachers "quit after only a few days," the suit alleges. Many classes were then filled with instructors who did not have the proper credentials or by substitutes who rotated through. Several substitutes allegedly gave all students a "C" because they didn't know the material well enough to grade the work, the suit claims.
Sharail Reed, a Markham eighth-grader, said she has had at least nine substitute history teachers this year. When her mother asks her what she's learning in that class, Sharail said: "I don't have anything to tell her."
If the proposed settlement is approved by a judge, layoffs based on teacher seniority would have to be distributed evenly among district schools. No school would lose a disproportionate number of instructors.
The ramifications of the agreement could be national, Stanford University education law professor William Koski told the Times, because the settlement establishes that having quality teachers in high poverty schools could be considered a constitutional right.
"That's a pretty big deal," he said. "We've established the fact that you can't do harm to poor kids."
Interestingly, LAUSD and state officials didn't seem to object to the lawsuit's arguments, but maintained that the budget cuts often left their hands tied.
According to a February story in the L.A. Daily News, district superintendent Ramon C. Cortines stated:
Unfortunately, the layoffs of teachers and thousands of other LAUSD employees will be unavoidable for the second year in a row because of a $640 million budget deficit caused by the state's horrific financial situation. We need greater flexibility in determining how the District can keep our high-performing teachers. More importantly, this District needs adequate resources to keep more teachers in our classrooms.
Catherine Lhamon, director of impact litigation at Public Counsel Law Center, told the L.A. Daily News that such explanations were insufficient.
"Our constitution demands that kids get an equal opportunity to learn," Lhamon said. "Traditional rules cannot trump the constitution."
State Secretary of Education Bonnie Reiss told the Times on Wednesday that she was happy with the decision but the state needed to ultimately change the law to allow merit-based decisions for all California schools.
"We're very pleased," Reiss said. "But ultimately, just to retain teachers at high poverty schools isn't enough."