Wednesday, February 24, 2010


    By ROBERT JABLON, Associated Press Writer

    Wednesday, February 24, 2010 Los Angeles, CA (AP) -- Civil rights groups sued the Los Angeles Unified School District and the state on Wednesday, claiming thousands of teacher layoffs will deprive inner-city children of their right to an education.

    The budget-cutting dismissal of 2,100 permanent teachers last year disproportionately affected three schools in low-income and minority areas, violating the state constitutional right of students to an equal and proper education, according to the lawsuit.

    The district could eliminate another 5,000 jobs during the 2010-2011 school year. The 650,000-student district, the nation's second largest, has seen its funding slashed as the state struggles to close a massive budget deficit.

    Some inner-city middle and high schools in Los Angeles could lose up to 40 percent of their teachers in the upcoming cuts, according to an analysis by the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access at the University of California, Los Angeles.

    Superintendent Ramon Cortines declined comment on the lawsuit, citing a district policy that prohibits speaking about pending litigation.

    The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court and asks a judge to block any more budget-related layoffs at the three schools for the 2010-2011 school year. The lawsuit also wants to bar future layoffs that affect a higher percentage of teachers at those schools than at other district campuses.

    Effectively, that could require the state to rescind its funding cutbacks.

    "If the government can bail out bankers on Wall Street, they can bail out students in Watts and Pico Union," said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, one plaintiff in the case.

    While the layoffs are meant to be districtwide, state seniority rules mean the newest teachers go first. Many of them are in schools in tough, poverty-stricken neighborhoods that see a higher teacher turnover.

    School districts around the nation are suffering financial crunches. The National Education Association estimates that some 34,000 teaching jobs will be eliminated this year.

    Rosenbaum said he did not know whether other ACLU chapters planned to file similar lawsuits, but he called the layoffs "the civil rights issue of our day."

    "I don't think we should have to run into a courtroom so that students can learn from teachers that they love," he said.

    The lawsuit argues that more than half the permanent teaching positions in the Los Angeles district were lost at Gompers, Liechty and Markham middle schools. Transferred senior teachers and substitutes took over to fill some of the vacancies. But the civil rights groups claim that created a revolving-door situation that harms the learning process.

    Some classes have seen as many as 10 teachers in the first four months of the current school year, Rosenbaum said.

    "In my history class this year I had so many different teachers that it was a blur," said Sharail Teed, an eight-grader at Markham Middle School in Watts who is listed as a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

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