Background for the Educational Bill of Rights
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Educational Court Cases: Questions & Answers
Williams et al. v. State of California et al. (Superior Court, San Francisco)
1. What is this lawsuit about?

Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit in May 2000 to force the State of California to address the appalling conditions of many of its public schools. Plaintiffs argue that the State is failing to provide thousands of public school students, particularly those in low-income communities and communities of color, with the bare minimum necessities required for an education, such as textbooks, trained teachers, and safe and clean facilities. The State's failure to provide these bare minimum necessities to all public school students in California violates the state constitution, as well as state and federal requirements that all students be given equal access to public education without regard to race, color, or national origin. Specifically, the lawsuit seeks to remedy the following school conditions:

    Lack of instructional materials and basic resources

    • No or not enough textbooks for each student to have his or her own book to use in class and to take home for homework
    • Outdated or defaced textbooks
    • No or not enough other necessary curricular materials or basic school supplies
    • Required fees (or fee waivers) to take certain courses and extracurricular offerings

    Inadequate instruction

    • High percentages of teachers without full, non-emergency credentials
    • English Language Learners ("ELL") taught by teachers who are not specially qualified to teach ELL students
    • Overuse of long-term substitute teachers
    • Chronically unfilled teacher vacancies

    Massive overcrowding

    • Classes without enough seats and desks for every student
    • Cramped, makeshift classrooms
    • Multi-track schedules that curtail the calendar length of courses
    • Multi-track schedules that prevent continuous, year-to-year study in a given subject or force students to take key exams before completing the full course of study
    • Bussing of students excessive distances from their homes to less crowded schools

    Inadequate, unsafe, and unhealthful facilities

    • Extremely hot or cold classrooms
    • Toilets that do not flush and that are filthy with urine, excrement, or blood
    • Bathrooms that are locked or that lack toilet paper, paper towels, and soap
    • Water fountains that do not work
    • Unrepaired, hazardous facilities, including broken windows, walls and ceilings
    • Vermin infestations
    • Leaky roofs and mold
    • Classrooms that are too noisy for teachers to teach and students to learn

2. Who are the plaintiffs in this case?

The individual plaintiffs in the case are 97 students in public elementary, junior high, and high schools in California who are being denied the bare minimum necessities of an education listed above. The plaintiffs come from 46 different schools in 18 school districts throughout the state.

The plaintiffs are asking the Court to allow the case to proceed as a class action, which means that the individual plaintiffs would represent all public school students throughout California who lack the bare necessities for an education. In Summer 2001, the judge will decide whether the case will proceed as a class action.

3. Why are plaintiffs suing the State and not the individual school districts?

The State of California bears the ultimate responsibility for providing all children with a basic and equal education under the state constitution. Therefore, plaintiffs brought this case against the State of California, the State Department of Education, the State Board of Education, and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and did not sue any individual schools or school districts. Although the State can delegate certain responsibilities to local school districts, the State has ultimate responsibility for ensuring that every public school child receives the bare minimum necessities for an education. As a result, the State and the relevant state agencies - not the local school districts - were named as defendants in this case.

Unfortunately, the State refuses to accept its responsibility for providing California public school children with a basic education as required by state law. In fact, after this case was filed, the State decided to sue each of the 18 school districts where plaintiffs attend school, rather than fixing the serious problems in those schools or providing the necessary support to the schools or school districts so they could fix the problems. The State chose to duck responsibility for its own failings by suing the local school districts, saying that the miserable school conditions were a problem for the local school districts to resolve on their own with no help from the State.

Plaintiffs were disappointed by the State's decision and opposed the lawsuit filed against the local school districts by asking the judge in the case to either dismiss the suit or to suspend it. Fortunately, the judge did order that the suit against the districts remain on hold until the plaintiffs' case against the State is resolved.

4. What do plaintiffs hope to get out of the case?

Through this lawsuit, plaintiffs seek to compel the State to develop an effective system of oversight and management over the public schools to ensure that every student in California is provided basic educational necessities, such as trained teachers, adequate textbooks, and minimally habitable facilities. Such a system will require the State to regularly determine whether public school students have the basic necessities for an education and, if not, take steps to correct the deficiencies promptly.

The State has admitted that it currently has no meaningful system for determining, for example, how many textbooks are lacking in schools or how many facilities are infested with rats. Plaintiffs are demanding that the State create a system of monitoring and accountability through which the State will discover the existence of serious problems in the public schools and ensure that those problems are corrected swiftly and permanently. Plaintiffs are not asking for money damages to be given to any particular student, school, or district. Plaintiffs seek an end to the deplorable conditions that exist in far too many California public schools.

5. How many schools and students will the lawsuit affect?

If successful, the suit will ensure that every public school student, in every school and school district in the State of California, receives the bare minimum necessities for an education. The remedy plaintiffs seek in this case - namely, an effective system of monitoring and accountability - will address the conditions alleged in the complaint at every public school throughout the State, even those that are not specifically named in the case.

6. How can I get more information or get involved in the case?

For more information or to support the Williams lawsuit by letting us know about the conditions at your school, please contact one of the offices below:

ACLU of Southern California (ask for Catherine Lhamon) (213) 977-9500 ext. 225

ACLU of Northern California (ask for Katayoon Majd) (415)-621-2493 ext. 318

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