ACLU Sues California Over Schools

Thursday, May 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a class-action lawsuit against California, claiming it has failed to provide the ``bare necessities'' to a disproportionate number of poor and minority students.

The lawsuit alleges that disadvantaged students are being taught at schools without adequately trained teachers and where rats roam, ceiling tiles fall and there are broken toilets.

``The conditions are so bad that if these schools were prisons they would be shut down,'' ACLU attorney Peter Eliasberg said Wednesday.

The ACLU claims that dilapidated schools house a disproportionate number of poor and minority students, preventing them from having the same opportunity to get a good education as their middle-class and white counterparts. They are also far more likely to have uncredentialed teachers, according to the plaintiffs.

The ACLU is suing to have the state fix the schools and provide enough credentialed teachers at all schools. Attorneys also want the state to set up an agency to then monitor schools to make sure they remain safe and clean.

John Mock, executive director of the State Board of Education, said there are laws to ensure that schools are kept clean and safe, but no agency to monitor them. Disparities between school facilities, particularly those in the same district, depend primarily on local districts, he said.

``That's a function of the distribution of funds,'' he said. ``It's a function of local management and of patterns of attendance.''

California's constitution requires the state to make sure that schools provide an equal chance for an education for all students, said Catherine Lhamon, an attorney with the ACLU.

Mock countered that neither the Board of Education nor the Department of Education have the power to require school districts to spend money evenly between schools. Only the Legislature could require that, he said.

Students, parents and teachers spoke at Wednesday's news conference, describing a lack of textbooks, lead pipes in drinking fountains and entire schools without student access to bathrooms.

Eli Williams, a seventh grader at Luther Burbank Middle School in San Francisco, said he stays away from the school gym because he is afraid of falling ceiling tiles.

``I feel like I'm someone bad to go to a bad school like this. It makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong,'' he said.