California Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos ruled late last month that a suit claiming the state has failed to provide low-income minority students in three Los Angeles schools an opportunity to learn basic literacy may proceed to trial (Ella T. et al, v. State Of California et al.). In doing so, she rejected the state’s arguments that plaintiffs failed to identify a proper class that is being subjected to discrimination, failed to allege how defendants’ actions or inactions caused students at the three schools to be unable to read at grade level, as well as a variety of procedural and justiciability positions.
Plaintiffs’ detailed 59-page complaint alleges that the state’s failure to provide adequate instruction in basic literacy denies students the fundamental right to education guaranteed under Articles I and IV of the state constitution. In holding that these claims do state a valid cause of action, the court indicated that these claims are entitled to strict scrutiny analysis both because the plaintiffs are members of a racial minority and because of their low-income status. (The California Supreme Court has held that poverty is a “suspect class” under the California constitution.)
The complaint further alleges that in 2012, the State’s own literacy experts documented a crisis in literacy in a report that stated that “Statewide assessment data indicate that there is an urgent need to address the language and literacy development of California’s underserved populations, specifically English learners, students with disabilities, socioeconomically disadvantaged students, and African-American and Hispanic students.” The experts’ call for urgent action was not heeded by the defendants and the report’ recommendations were never implemented, according to the plaintiffs.
Last year, the California Supreme Court declined to consider lower court rulings that held that the fundamental constitutional right to an equal educational opportunity does not contain a “qualitative” adequacy component. This case may provide the high court with another opportunity to consider that question.
The attorneys for the plaintiffs include Public Counsel and Morrison and Forster, who are also representing plaintiffs in a federal right to literacy case in Michigan. The U.S. District Court recently granted the state’s motion to dismiss that case, but plaintiffs there are appealing that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.