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ACLU: Probation camp for kids doesn't educate

January 12, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
The Los Angeles County Probation Department has been slapped with a giant class-action lawsuit. The action claims the department failed to provide a proper education to students in the county's largest detention center.Hundreds of teenagers are held at the Challenger Memorial Youth Center near Lancaster, a camp for kids on probation. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other legal organizations say they don't get any education.

"This is the worst of the worst, and there are 650 kids at Challenger," said Mark Rosenbaum, ACLU chief counsel.

A coalition of legal organizations filed suit in federal court Tuesday against Los Angeles County for failing to provide an education in the largest juvenile probation camp.

Attorney Laura Faer talked about "KC," a teen from the camp: The answers to tests were filled in by his teachers.

"What they did provide him was passing grades in all of his classes, and in 2009, a diploma," said Faer. "Today, at age 18, KC can still not read or write."

Rosenbaum taped an interview with one of the students. The student was allegedly pulled out of class for most of each day to do menial work.

"They just wanted to see me pass 'cause if I don't know how to read, I can't go nowhere in life, mostly, 'cause I can't read nothing," said the student.

There are six camps and one school at the Challenger center. The camp has also been the target of a Department of Justice investigation over mistreatment of students. So far, nothing has been done. A phone call to Los Angeles County Probation Department was not returned.

It costs $50,000 a year to put each youth through the Challenger probation camp.

Attorney Carly Munson told of "Carl," a 12th-grader performing at a second-grade level.

"The goal of this lawsuit is to change the end of the story for Carl and for all the other youths in the system," said Munson.

So the state and the county are billed millions of dollars for what the ACLU says is a non-existent education.

Attorneys for the teenagers say they should not have to go to court but they are ready if necessary.