A collection of students, parents and advocacy organizations, including those from two Southland schools, sued the state superintendent of public instruction and various state agencies on Tuesday for their alleged collective failure to provide every child in the state access to literacy as required under the California Constitution.
The defendants in the Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit are the state, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, the state Board of Education and the Department of Education.
The complaint was filed on behalf of students at La Salle Avenue Elementary School, in Los Angeles; Children of Promise Preparatory Academy in Inglewood and Van Buren Elementary School in Stockton, as well as on behalf of their advocates, including former teachers and community organizations.
The civil rights action alleges that literacy is the single most urgent crisis confronting California schools today.
A representative for Torlakson's office could not be immediately reached for comment.
Based on the state's own testing standards, under-performing schools throughout California have student bodies consistently achieving less than 10 percent, and frequently less than 5 percent, proficiency in core subjects like reading and math, the suit alleges.
In 2016-17, the school-wide proficiency rates for La Salle, Van Buren and Children of Promise, respectively, were four, six and 11 percent, the suit states. Eight children out of the 179 students tested at La Salle Elementary were found to be proficient by state standards, the complaint says.
"Public education was intended as the great equalizer in our democracy, enabling all children opportunity to pursue their dreams and better their circumstances, but in California it has become the great unequalizer," said plaintiffs' attorney Mark Rosenbaum. "Although denial of literacy is the great American tragedy, California is singlehandedly dragging down the nation despite the hard work and commitment of students, families and teachers."
Of the nation's 200 largest districts, 11 of the 26 lowest-performing districts are in California, Rosenbaum said. In comparison, New York has two and Texas has only one, he said.