Judge allows governor’s suit against schools to proceed

The Associated Press
Friday February 09, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — The governor may proceed with a suit against 18 school districts in a bid to force them to fix shoddy classrooms, issue textbooks and hire credentialed teachers as required under state law, a judge ruled Thursday. 

The governor’s suit is an outgrowth of one by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU, which opposes the state’s litigation, in its suit accuses California of sidestepping its duty to guarantee students an equal public education. 

The state is claiming the school districts and their locally elected boards, not Sacramento, ultimately are responsible for ensuring equal educational opportunities for all children.  

The ACLU claims otherwise, and urged San Francisco Superior Judge Peter Busch to dismiss the state’s suit that could grow to include California’s 1,054 school districts. 

The judge, in approving the state’s claim, said he was bound by laws that allow so-called cross complaints in lawsuits. In this case, the state’s cross complaint is “suggesting that another party is responsible,” the judge said. 

ACLU attorney Mark Rosenbaum said the ACLU’s suit demands that the state implement a system to ensure all students get an equal education. The state’s cross complaint, he said, interferes with that goal. 

John Daum, an attorney for the state, said “our claim is that the districts can fix these problems.” 

Peter Sturges, a lawyer for the San Francisco Unified School District and the Fresno Unified School District, boiled down the issue: Did a school district “not get enough money, or did the school misspend it?” 

The ACLU sued the state in May in a case that grew to represent 98 students in 46 schools in 18 school districts.  

The ACLU soon will ask the judge to expand its suit to cover all 1,054 school districts and their 5.8 million students. 

Here is a sampling of allegations contained in the ACLU and state lawsuits: 

—At Cloverdale High School, classroom temperatures reach as high as 110 degrees in the summer. Students cannot take certain books home because there aren’t enough. 

—At Morris E. Daily Elementary School in Fresno, some children “have urinated or defecated on themselves at school because toilets were locked when they needed to use the restroom.” 

—At Mark Keppel High School in Alhambra, economics textbooks haven’t been updated since 1986 and, among other things, one-third of the student population must stand during assemblies because the seats are missing. 

A hearing on how to proceed with both cases is set for May 6. 

The ACLU’s case and the state’s suit are Williams vs. California, 312236.