The California Court of Appeal ruled in favor of a class of parents and guardians of Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) students. The decision reinstates their lawsuit and renews the fight for a fair and equal education for Black, Latino, and economically disadvantaged students enrolled in the district. The parents and guardians are represented pro bono by Kirkland & Ellis.
“We will keep fighting for LAUSD students, particularly those at-risk, who the district has ignored and allowed to fall behind in their education,” said Kirkland litigation partner Sierra Elizabeth, who is co-leading the case. “We believe in these students and are extremely disappointed that LAUSD would rather fight in court for three years then come to the table to figure out a solution.”
The ruling returns the case to the Superior Court of California before Judge Yvette Palazuelos. The Court of Appeal has instructed Judge Palazuelos to reverse her order dismissing the lawsuit and to reinstate plaintiffs’ constitutional claims for intra-district discrimination and inter-district discrimination. The Court of Appeal further showed support for plaintiffs’ argument that the trial court “could fashion appropriate relief consisting of workable programs and techniques for evaluating and remediating learning deficits occasioned by the District’s distance learning program.”
The class action, filed in September 2020, alleged that LAUSD, the second largest school district in the country, adopted and implemented distance learning policies during COVID-19 school closures that violated the constitutional and statutory rights of its students.
The lawsuit asserts claims for discrimination based on race and wealth, as a result of LAUSD’s failure to provide its students with basic educational equality. The case requested that LAUSD adopt adequate distance learning policies during the remainder of COVID-19 school closures, and implement remedial programs designed to reverse the learning loss and disengagement students suffered while the unconstitutional distance learning policies were in effect.
Instead of listening to the parents’ concerns during the pandemic, the district significantly reduced teacher work hours, training, and professional development; reduced live instructional minutes for students; heavily relied on “work on your own” instructional minutes to meet minimum state requirements; eliminated student assessments; failed to ensure access to technology; and suspended student engagement and outreach programs. LAUSD’s policies ensured that Black, Latino and low-income students would fall even further behind.
Since LAUSD schools reopened in August 2021, the district has failed to take the necessary remedial steps to ensure its most vulnerable students do not fall further behind. LAUSD reported that about 46% of students were chronically absent during the 2021-2022 school year. A September 2022 LAUSD press release reported that the percentage of LAUSD students who met or exceeded achievement levels in English dropped by 2.26% from 2018-2019, to a total of just 41.67% of students. For math, the percentage of students who met or exceeded achievement levels dropped by 5.03% from 2018-2019, to a total of just 28.47% of students.
Rather than providing the help these students desperately need, LAUSD has relentlessly fought the class of parents and guardians of LAUSD students for three years. Now that the California Court of Appeal has reinstituted the lawsuit, the parents are hopeful that LAUSD will do what’s right to help their children.
“Even though we filed this lawsuit three years ago, families and students are still being impacted by the pandemic. Our kids missed out on a lot of learning time because of poor distance learning practices, and the effects of that learning loss continues to follow our students today, even long after they’re out of school,” said parent Judith Larson.
Plaintiffs hope the trial court will grant the requested programmatic reforms to address the ongoing, cumulative, and irreparable harms suffered by the students of the district, including but not limited to:
• Additional live instructional minutes delivered by certified teachers;
• Mandatory assessments to evaluate student learning loss;
• Small group and one-on-one tutoring services;
• Mandatory training for teachers specific to remediating learning loss that students suffered; and
• Affirmative outreach measures to counter the student truancy trends that developed because of the LAUSD’s distance learning policies.