California Students Informed of Right to Fair Education

January 3, 2005 12:00 am

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School Notices and Complaint Forms Will Help Speed Repairs and Increase Access to Materials and Teachers, ACLU Says

LOS ANGELES - As students return to school today, a new mandate takes effect requiring all California public schools to post notices informing students and their parents of certain basic education requirements, including access for all students to books and other learning materials, trained teachers, and clean and safe classrooms.

"This is such a relief," said Martha Sanchez, a parent of a third grade student at 28th Street Elementary School in Los Angeles. "Now there is a process that we can follow to make schools better so I can be sure my daughter has a good teacher and homework every night. Parents have never had a clear way to make any improvements in our schools."

The notices are a product of the historic education class action lawsuit Williams v. California, originally filed in May of 2000 by the American Civil Liberties Union, the law firm of Morrison & Foerster, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), Public Advocates, Inc. and other groups. Under Senate Bill 550, schools now must establish a uniform complaint process that will help identify and resolve problems and ensure that students have a better environment in which to learn.

"Until now, California has never been accountable to its students for registering and remedying complaints about serious problems in the classroom," said Catherine Lhamon, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California. "This is one of the first steps toward making positive changes to our public schools."

Students and parents can now file complaints about school deficiencies in person or anonymously with their school principal, who must then fix valid problems within 30 days. If not satisfied with the resolution, the student, parent or teacher may file an appeal with the school board, the district superintendent, or the state allocation board. School districts will provide public summaries of all complaints and their resolutions quarterly.

The Williams lawsuit charged the state with reneging on its constitutional obligation to provide students with the bare essentials necessary for education. In addition to mandating access to materials and clean classrooms, the settlement takes steps toward assuring that the state employs qualified teachers, and it holds schools accountable for delivering these fundamental elements to students. The settlement provides nearly $1 billion to accomplish these goals.

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