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LAUSD sued for depriving low-income schools

February 24, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
The Los Angeles Unified School District is hit with a lawsuit, claiming thousands of teacher layoffs have deprived poor inner-city children of their right to an education.She is 13 years old, a student in a troubled school. Budget cuts left Sharail Reed with 10 different substitute teachers in a four-month period. Some of them, she says, didn't even teach.

"They'll have crossword puzzles in their bag because they know they're only going to be here for one day, so they say, let me be a babysitter, a dictator, and let me just hand them work and make them do it," said Reed.

Reed is named in class action lawsuit against LAUSD and the state of California. The suit charges that the system for laying off teachers is unfair, a classic case of "last hired, first fired."

Schools in low-income areas say they are hit hardest. They are filled with the youngest teachers because experienced ones seek schools that are less challenging. The ACLU and Public Counsel are filing the lawsuit.

"Our students learn exactly the lessons that our government teaches them when it disrupts their education, that they are the throwaway class," said Catherine Lhamon, Public Counsel directing attorney of impact litigation.

The suit cites schools with extreme layoffs last summer. At Samuel Gompers Middle School in Watts, 48 percent of the teachers received RIFs, reduction-in-force notices. At Markham Middle School, 62 percent; at John H. Liechty Middle School in Pico-Union, 72 percent.

"If government can bail out the bankers of Wall Street, it can bail out the children of Watts and Pico-Union," said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director for the ACLU of Southern California.

But LAUSD officials says the district's hands are tied. State law determines the system for layoffs.

"We are using exactly the same laws as any other school district, and we are looking forward to opportunities to discuss alternatives," said Vivian Ekchian, LAUSD Human Resources.

Eighty percent of LAUSD's budget goes to personnel salaries.

The ACLU says a solution must be found.

"The last place that you make cuts is the constitutional rights of these kids," said Rosenbaum.

Sharail Reed says she deserves a real teacher. "This is a waste of my time for being here. I'm ready to learn and they don't even have a lesson plan so we just -- it's a waste of time."

The lawsuit comes as LAUSD faces a $640-million deficit. There is a proposal on the table to lay off 7,500 teachers.


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