Friday, November 05, 2010


A civil rights lawsuit alleged that students were punished for asking for instruction and that teachers routinely missed classes at Camp Challenger in Lancaster. Teaching staff will be overhauled and retrained and new literacy and career programs will be offered.

By Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times |

November 5, 2010 -- At a news conference Thursday, attorney Mark Rosenbaum recalled taking an 18-year-old to a celebratory meal after his graduation from the high school at Camp Challenger, a Lancaster juvenile facility.

The teenager, known as Casey A. in court papers, wanted to go to Denny's because the restaurant had pictures on the menu. Despite about three years of schooling he'd received while at Challenger, Casey was illiterate and unable to read a single word on his own diploma, the attorney said.

"These kids could not fill out job applications or read basic signs," said Rosenbaum, chief counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

 Sidebar: School Offers Model Lessons for D.C.'s Jailed Youths

from EdWeek |

<< Christopher Powers/Education Week

In the brief time that incarcerated teenagers spend at the Maya Angelou Academy, principal David Domenici aims to give them the best education possible. (November 4, 2010)  |

Attorneys and county officials Thursday announced a federal class action settlement outlining sweeping reforms for the troubled school at Camp Challenger, improvements they said would reduce recidivism and better prepare the young offenders to lead law-abiding lives.

Attorneys sued the county in federal court earlier this year alleging egregious civil rights violations and deprivation of legally mandated education for youths at the facility. They contended that students were punished for asking for instruction, that teachers routinely missed classes and that schoolwork was slipped under the door for weeks for students in solitary confinement.

Rather than teach Casey how to read, the school assigned someone to read him his assignments and fed him the answers to state exams, allowing him to graduate, they alleged.

Under the terms of the settlement, teaching staff will be overhauled and retrained, new literacy and career programs will be offered and compensatory services will be provided to young people previously housed at the camp, attorneys said.

About 2,500 teens who spent time at Challenger beginning in 2008 will receive services to make up for the inadequate education they got. A team of education experts, which has completed a report on the conditions at Challenger as part of the lawsuit, will head the reform efforts, attorneys said.

About 25% to 30% of the school's teachers have been transferred or have resigned, and the school's top officials, including the principal and assistant principals, have been changed, said Ron Randolph, special assistant to the superintendent of the L.A. County Office of Education. He said that "wherever disciplinary actions were necessary, appropriate actions were taken," but declined to give details, saying he could not discuss personnel matters.

"We do a heck of a job punishing kids, but we don't do a good job educating them," county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said at the news conference announcing the settlement. "...This settlement gets them out from behind the eight ball, and gives them a fighting chance in life."

The Board of Supervisors signed off on the settlement Wednesday. The agreement is pending approval from a federal judge, who will oversee the reforms.

Shawna Parks, legal director of the Disability Rights Legal Center, which filed the suit along with the ACLU and Public Counsel, said that although conditions at Camp Challenger had been "unique in the scope and severity of the problem," other juvenile facilities around the county and state had similar problems.

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