A group of students is taking a novel approach to fighting teacher layoffs at their schools: they got a lawyer and are suing the school district.
Teacher layoffs at three Los Angeles Unified middle schools have deprived thousands of low-income students of their legal right to an education consistent with statewide standards, civil rights attorneys said in a lawsuit filed today on behalf of pupils at the affected campuses.
The students are represented in the Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, the Public Counsel Law Center and the law firm of Morrison & Foerster LLP.
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The suit targets the state and LAUSD for carrying out budget cuts last year that the lawyers allege disproportionately affected Gompers, Liechty and Markham middle schools and decimated their teaching staffs.
LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines said in a prepared statement that district policy prevents him from commenting on ongoing litigation, but added that layoffs of teachers and thousands of other employees are inevitable because of a $640 million budget deficit.
Calling the layoffs "disruptive and demoralizing," Cortines said they are not in the best interests of students or the district, which is the nation's second-largest.
According to the complaint, while many schools around the state lost no teachers to the budget crisis, more than half of the teaching staffs at the three middle schools lost their jobs as permanent teachers.
"We have had nine different substitutes so far in my history class and it is only January," Markham School eighth-grader Sharail Reed, a named plaintiff, said in a sworn declaration. "We finally got someone in mid- December who said he is a permanent teacher, but I'm not sure how long he will stay."
At Liechty, fully 72 percent of the teachers received layoff notices, while at Markham the layoffs included almost the entire English department along with every eighth-grade history teacher, according to the lawsuit.
"Every student knows that you don't reform a school by removing great teachers. If government can bail out the bankers of Wall Street, then it can bail out the children of Watts and Pico-Union," Rosenbaum said.