Court Allows CA Schools Lawsuit to Proceed as a Class Action, Making Case Largest Education Lawsuit

October 2, 2001 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES –A California Supreme Court has granted the motion for class certification in an education rights lawsuit, allowing thousands of California public school students to be represented in the action against the state of California, the American Civil Liberties Union said today.

Williams vs. California, the historic class-action lawsuit brought by the ACLU and other civil rights organizations and private law firms, was filed on behalf of all California public school students who lack essentials required for an opportunity to learn.

“The court’s decision confirms that this is a case of statewide dimensions requiring statewide solutions,” said Mark Rosenbaum, Legal Director for the ACLU of Southern California. “Now we can begin work on setting up a system to identify and correct deficiencies in the California public schools and to end the statewide system of have and have-not schools.”

The lawsuit charges the state with having reneged on its constitutional obligation to provide students with the bare essentials necessary for education. The suit also charges California with having violated state and federal requirements that equal access to public education be provided without regard to race, color, or national origin.

The granting of class certification was one of the central battles in the Williams case, Rosenbaum said, and represents a major setback for the state of California. However, it is unclear exactly how many students the order will affect because the state does not have a system in place to monitor and correct problems involving the public schools.

California has also filed a counter-suit against its own school districts, demanding that they be held responsible for fixing problems in their own schools.

“Another school year has begun,” said Rosenbaum, “and the state of California still has no idea which students lack textbooks, qualified teachers and even classroom seats. As the state demands accountability from students, parents and teachers, it must be accountable too for failing to provide all children with the bare necessities of equal education.”

By law, the state is obligated to provide its students with at least the bare essentials necessary for the education of all students. Many of the plaintiffs in the Williams case cited a lack of textbooks, no access to a library, chronically unfilled teacher vacancies, lack of sanitary toilet facilities and vermin infestations among other conditions that were common at their respective schools.

The lawsuit is brought by the ACLU affiliates of California; Morrison & Foerster LLP; the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Public Advocates, Inc.; Center for Law in the Public Interest; Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights; the Asian Pacific American Legal Center; Professors Karl Manheim and Alan Ides; Peter Edelman of the Georgetown University Law Center; and Robert Myers of Newman, Aronson, Vanaman.

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