After months of urging one of the nation’s largest school districts to safely provide quality in-person learning to the thousands of special needs students who get little from online instruction, children’s rights groups on Friday went right to the California Supreme Court and filed a lawsuit to make it happen pronto.
The move against the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) by the Alliance for Children’s Rights and the Learning Rights Law Center was meant to speed up a decision on what the plaintiffs say is an issue so urgent that it cannot be allowed to languish.
LAUSD had, in fact, been offering some in-person tutoring and assessment for students with disabilities since October, but advocates said those services, which reached less than 1% of all K-12 students, were not enough.
Even those limited services ground to a halt Monday when district Superintendent Austin Beutner ordered all campuses closed entirely amid an alarming post-Thanksgiving spike in new coronavirus cases.
The Supreme Court is not obligated to take up the case, but the lawyers’ petition urged the justices to do so “because the issues presented here are of great public importance and should be resolved promptly. It is in the public interest to resolve the questions presented in this Petition and to provide students with special needs in California with the appropriate resources to avoid learning loss, prevent behavioral regression, and protect students’ mental health and well-being.”
There are “no questions of fact” for the court to resolve, the plaintiffs’ lawyers say, because a new pandemic-era law is clear: Under Senate Bill 98, signed into law in June, California school districts must provide in-person instruction “whenever possible” and “to the greatest extent possible.”
“It has been possible for months,” the Alliance for Children’s Rights stated in a news release. “Since September 2, 2020, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has consistently maintained that in-person instruction can be provided, in small cohorts, and up to 25% of campus capacity. Such in-person instruction would be provided in accordance with the Department of Public Health’s safety protocols.”
The plaintiffs contend many of the 80,000 special needs students in the sprawling district simply cannot learn effectively unless they are physically in a classroom with a teacher, and that they are falling further behind every day.
The damage, they say, is not limited to academic matters. The students’ emotional health is also irreparably harmed as well, “leaving families struggling to address one of the most fundamental needs of the children in their care for months without a plan.”
A spokesperson for the school district, asked about the petition, told the L.A. Times, “We do not comment on pending litigation.”