On January 12, 2010, the ACLU Racial Justice Program, in coalition with the ACLU of Southern California, Public Counsel and the Disability Rights Center, filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Office of Education, the County Probation Department, and top officials, for their total failure to provide youth in the Challenger Memorial Youth Center with a basic and appropriate education.
The suit charges that county personnel – including administrators and teachers at the Challenger Memorial Youth Center in Lancaster, Los Angeles County’s largest juvenile probation facility – systematically denied students access to appropriate instruction and the required minimum school day. Students reported instances of being denied all education services and use of the restroom. Student Casey A, was awarded a high school diploma despite being unable to read or write.
The Challenger center consists of six camps and a single school that serves about 650 students. It has been the target of a Department of Justice investigation regarding mistreatment and poor supervision of students, and was cited as having a “broken” school system in a 2009 Los Angeles County Probation Commission report. The lawsuit filed goes beyond these findings and reveals startling new details about how county agencies and officials have abdicated their core responsibility of providing education to youths forced to attend school at Challenger.
Among other things, the lawsuit seeks to compel the county to provide intensive reading remediation services to current and former students at Challenger who were or are three or more years behind their chronological grade level in reading ability. Additionally, the suit seeks to prevent county officials from excluding students from classrooms without providing them with notice and an opportunity to challenge the basis for their removal.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the Los Angeles County Probation Department, the Los Angeles County Office of Education (which operates schools at county probation camps and juvenile halls), and several county education officials, including the superintendent of the Office of Education, the director of that agency’s juvenile court schools, and the current and former principals of the probation department’s Challenger Memorial Youth Center.
Counsel in the lawsuit include the nonprofit group Public Counsel, Loyola Law School’s Disability Rights Center and the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, in addition to the ACLU of Southern California.