School Officials Sued For Warehousing Second, Third Graders in Auditorium

January 11, 2000 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES — In the first lawsuit of its kind in the state, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California is accusing school officials of violating the rights of students as young as seven by crowding them into multiple classes held in an open school auditorium.

According to a class action lawsuit filed today on behalf of children attending Rosemont Avenue Elementary School here, school administrators quartered five separate classes of approximately 100 second- and third-grade students simultaneously in the school auditorium without sound barriers, floor-to-ceiling visual barriers or adequate space for learning and safety.

“The days of the one-room schoolhouse ended with the last millennium. But at Rosemont, students are being warehoused, divided only by ramshackle partitions, as if education were taking place in a M.A.S.H unit,” said Mark Rosenbaum, Legal Director of the ACLU of Southern California.

“This is the first case of its kind in the state,” he added, “and we are hopeful that the school district will seek a quick resolution to ensure that these children are not denied the educational opportunities that the majority of children throughout the state receive.”

The ACLU lawsuit alleges that the children are being denied their right to equal protection of the law because they must learn under conditions that fall fundamentally below prevailing statewide standards. In addition, the lawsuit charges that the below-standard conditions have a racially discriminatory impact on the students, nearly all of whom are children of color.

During the 1998-1999 school year, teachers conducted three third-grade classes simultaneously in the school auditorium. Beginning last July, when year-round schooling began, and continuing to this day, four third-grade classes and one second-grade class — totaling five classes and 100 students — have been forced to coexist in the auditorium.

Teachers had to ask for donations of cloth partitions to use to separate the classes. But the partitions provide no sound barrier between the classes. The students often cannot hear their teachers, each other, or school loud-speaker announcements because of the noise level in the auditorium.

“I want my daughter to be in a classroom like other third graders,” said Adrian Rios, the father of plaintiff Daisy Rios. “The walls in the auditorium are not appropriate for the five classes. The children sometimes yell and everything is audible. Even when the children are just speaking normally in class, all they say can be heard.”

Third grader Natalie Molina, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said “I want to learn more because I don’t want to go low, I want to go high … to the next level.”

The ACLU is seeking to have the children placed in separate classrooms, where they will be able to hear their teachers, move around safely and take full advantage of their right to a quality education.

“Subjecting children between seven and nine years old to this learning environment denies them their Constitutional right to a free, adequate and equal public education,” said Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California. “Given the deplorable conditions under which these classes are forced to operate, how can we reasonably expect these teachers and students to succeed?”

Catherine Lhamon, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, added, “The students at Rosemont, 99.5 percent of whom are children of color and more than 90 percent of whom receive free or reduced-price meals, are the forgotten children in our state. Through this lawsuit, the ACLU seeks to make the state and the school district remember these children, and be held accountable to them.”

The lawsuit names the Los Angeles Unified School District, its Superintendent and Board of Education, the State Superintendent of Public Education, and the State Department of Education.

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