Parents Sue LA Unified School District, Blasting Its Online Learning as Inadequate

September 25, 2020by Paloma Esquivel, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
Parents, students and education acitivsts hold a news conference to announce a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified School District on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. The suit was filed by black and Latino families concerned that the district's distance learning plan violates students' California constitutional rights to a basic public education. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Unified School District’s distance learning plan has caused “enormous learning losses” and left tens of thousands of Black and Latino students without a basic education, according to allegations in a class action lawsuit filed against the district Thursday.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Los Angles public school parents, alleges that the district is failing students by offering less instructional time to students compared with other large districts in California and cutting the hours that teachers are required to work.

“My daughter and the children of my community … they’ve been failed by the district,” said Judith Larson, a plaintiff in the suit whose daughter is in seventh grade at South Gate Middle School. “The poor education our students receive this year is going to have an impact for years to come.”

Some of the nine parents who filed the suit said teachers frequently dismiss class early, sometimes soon after taking attendance. Others said they received nonfunctioning computers from the district, including ones that crashed every time they tried to access online meetings. And others said their children are not learning anything new and are only reviewing old material.

The plaintiffs were organized by two advocacy groups, Innovate Public Schools and Parent Revolution, which have been critical of the district’s approach to distance learning. The suit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, asks for an injunction to stop the district from “further depriving plaintiffs of their constitutional rights,” as well as a declaration that the district is violating students’ rights.

In a statement, L.A. Unified spokeswoman Shannon Haber said that the district had not yet been served with the lawsuit but that districts like Los Angeles “have to balance the sometimes conflicting priorities of the learning needs of students and the health and safety of all in the school community.”

“Since school closed in March, L.A. Unified has been working to bridge the digital divide ensuring all students have devices and access to the internet. It has also sought innovative ways to engage students online,” Haber said. “Los Angeles Unified will continue to provide the best possible education to all students.”

In a statement, Sierra Elizabeth, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said “LAUSD’s distance learning plan is woefully inadequate.”

“Not only does the plan deny all public school children in our city the basic rights guaranteed to them by the California Constitution, it disproportionately harms the poorest and most vulnerable children in this school district and that is unacceptable,” she said.

Larson, 52, said her daughter, an honor roll student, only received about two or three hours of instruction per week in the spring. Things improved slightly in the fall, but nowhere near enough for her daughter to catch up, she said.

Her 12-year-old’s schedule shows she is supposed to be in class from 9 a.m. until 2:15 p.m. with a 30-minute lunch break. Instead, she has a 90-minute lunch break and teachers often dismiss class early, sometimes soon after taking attendance and asking whether students have completed their homework. She was given five textbooks, but has yet to open them “because there’s no need,” Larson said.

“My biggest worry is that she’s not going to be ready for eighth grade and this is like a domino effect because my dream is that she can get to college,” Larson said. “And I don’t see that that’s going to happen that easily … She’s being left behind.”

The suit puts much of the blame for the failures it alleges on two agreements between the district and the teachers union — one that was signed in April and another in August. Under the August agreement, teachers are expected to work six hours a day.

Several plaintiffs also described their lack of adequate technology to access education. District officials have said that they have all the technology that students need.

Some plaintiffs, however, said they have requested wireless hot spots but have not received them. And one parent said his 16-year-old son attends his online classes by cellphone because he has not received a computer from the district.

Akela Wroten, Jr. has three children in LAUSD schools, ages 4, 6 and 8. He has internet access at home but the bandwidth is not adequate. He said he was put on a waiting list for a hot spot but has not received one.

He joined the suit because he sees how his children are struggling, he said.

“This experience is pretty much chaos,” Wroten said. “If wi-fi is not working, Zoom isn’t working or the apps that they have aren’t working … we were not prepared at all and our babies are suffering from it.”

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©2020 Los Angeles Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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