At the end of November, a coalition of parents, students and parent rights groups, including Oakland’s Reach, which is based in Oakland, and the Community Coalition of Los Angeles, filed a lawsuit against the state of California, alleging that education officials, including Superintendent Tony Thurmond and the California Department of Education, had not done enough to help districts local schools to provide adequate education during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although Alameda County Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith may take months or more to reach a decision in the case, parent groups and families filed for a preliminary injunction in May that would have forced the State to take immediate action to bridge the digital divide, ensure students receive adequate live education, provide free counseling for students and mental health training for teachers, and create a plan to help districts achieve fight against learning loss.
“A big part of our focus is to report on how the state has never responded to and supported low-income black and brown families. But certainly during the pandemic, ”said Lakisha Young, CEO of The Oakland Reach, in an interview. “We need to take it beyond distance learning and talk more about how the state takes responsibility and serves our students under a number of conditions.”
In a hearing last week, state attorneys spoke out against the injunction, saying most districts have already completed the 2020-2021 school year and that in the fall they would return to in-person learning, so many of the requests are not timely.
This week, Justice Smith issued a ruling dismissing the parent groups’ claim, writing that “the court is reluctant to deal with long-term issues through a short-term preliminary injunction.” She also wrote that the state has taken some steps to address concerns about learning loss, including Assembly Bill 86, which gives more funding to school districts to support in-person instruction and provide more academic support to help students recover from the pandemic.
“We are encouraged to see the judge in this case deny the preliminary injunction motion – this is in keeping with the state’s central argument that it would be inappropriate to disrupt California’s ongoing efforts to stop the spread of a deadly disease while providing historic support to Kindergarten to Grade 12 students affected by COVID-19, especially at this late stage of the end of the school year, ”a ministry statement said. California Education. “Last year’s temporary authorization for distance education was a necessary step to protect lives; this status expires at the end of the 2020-2021 school year.
Smith granted a separate motion that could help move the parents’ case forward: she decided to authorize the Compton Unified School District, the Duarte Unified School District in Los Angeles County, and the California Association of Black School Educators. to join the case against the state education ministry. . In their request to join the lawsuit, the three groups agreed that California had failed in its efforts to support distance learning during the pandemic.
The initial 84-page complaint details the experiences of several families in Oakland and Los Angeles who struggled to get laptops, internet hotspots and tutoring from their schools to attend online classes that were hastily put in place in the spring of 2020 after the pandemic forced campus to close. The lawsuit alleges that the actions of the State Department of Education during the pandemic exacerbated education disparities for students of color, homeless students and low-income students.
An Oakland parent named Angela J. in the lawsuit – the complaint does not use the real names of the parents and students and we also agreed not to name her – said in an interview that her frustrations with the quantity of daily instruction time that her children were entering an Oakland elementary school led her to join the trial. She was concerned about the lack of guidance she was receiving on using distance learning platforms, but had family in other states whose children had more solid distance learning experiences, and she wondered why it couldn’t be done in California. She even considered moving to Iowa to stay with her father and enroll her children there. At the start of the pandemic, her twins were in second year and completed their third year completely in distance education.
“As of today, June 16, my 8-year-old twins are not ready for fourth year,” she told The Oaklandside. “I know of some school systems that prepared their children better than Oakland Unified. It looked like the OUSD had dropped the ball.
In OUSD, the Oakland Undived campaign aimed to distribute 25,000 laptops and hotspots to all students that they can keep throughout their schooling. Until the students received their Oakland Undived laptops, their school lent them a device. The campaign distributed its 25,000th device in March 2021, one year after the schools closed. The students remained in distance education until March, when the Oakland Education Association teachers union and the Oakland Unified School District reached an agreement to provide in-person instruction to the youngest students in the district. Some kindergarten to grade two students returned to class a few days a week on March 30, while grades three to six could return on April 19. The district also brought back targeted groups of students of all grades, such as foster students, those who had not been engaged in distance learning, and English language learners.
While local school districts were responsible for facilitating distance learning, parent groups are suing California because the state is constitutionally obligated to provide access to a solid basic education, said Jesselyn Friley, a lawyer with Public Council, one of the law firms representing families and community groups.
“What the districts have said over and over again is that they do not have the resources they need to ensure that every child has access to a solid basic education,” said Friley. “It is well established by our California Supreme Court that the state has ultimate authority and responsibility here.”
Parent groups are asking a state judge to order the Department of Education and the superintendent to ensure all students have computers and internet access, schools provide mental health support and support. technical training for students and families; and that school districts consult with families on future decisions regarding distance learning, return to in-person learning, and how to deal with learning loss.
In their lawsuit, The Oakland REACH and Community Coalition described how they formed learning centers to provide assistance to some students during the spring, summer and fall. In the spring of 2020, after schools in Oakland closed due to the pandemic, The Oakland Reach established its City-wide virtual hub, who provided instruction, social and emotional programming, and technical support. The hub continued to operate throughout the 2020-2021 school year and now offers summer courses.
The Oakland Reach and the Community Coalition are also asking the court for a ruling that will help them expand their learning center models to other parts of California, with state support. In January, The Oakland Reach and Oakland Unified School District received a $ 900,000 grant from the Center on Reinventing Public Education and TNTP, an organization that works with school districts to train teachers.
“A big part of the reason we joined the trial – and it’s similar to Community Coalition – is that both organizations built our own solutions to serve our communities,” Young said. “Thanks to this responsiveness, we have obtained impressive results in terms of academic success and parental involvement. These innovations to serve our families for the long term were created and we want these efforts to be replicated to benefit other communities across California. “
A trial date has yet to be set, but in his other rulings Smith has indicated the court may aim for a trial in May 2022, so any relief ordered can be put in place by the start of the period. 2022-2023. school year.