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ACLU sues city school district and state over teacher layoffs

February 24, 2010 | 12:09 pm

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of students at three of the city's worst-performing middle schools. The suit claims those students were denied their legal rights to an education and aims to prevent the Los Angeles Unified School District from laying off more teachers. 

The last round of L.A. Unified teacher firings led to chaotic conditions on some campuses that made learning nearly impossible, especially at Samuel Gompers, Edwin Markham and John H. Liechty middle schools, according to a complaint filed by the ACLU, Public Counsel and Morrison & Foerster. Between half and three-quarters of the teachers at those campuses were laid off last year, according to the class-action lawsuit filed in L.A. County Superior Court.

Because of a steep budget deficit, L.A. Unified officials issued thousands of layoff notices last year and are expected to order more this year. Citing state law, school districts typically dismiss teachers on the basis of seniority during budgetary shortfalls.

The cuts were especially devastating to Gompers, Markham and Liechty because administrators had recruited younger instructors who wanted to teach in the inner city. When those teachers were dismissed, they were often replaced by instructors who did not want to work in tough, urban schools, the suit alleges.

Many positions were also difficult to fill, so schools turned to substitutes, according to the lawsuit. Some of those teachers allowed the classes to turn chaotic or were unfamiliar with the subject matter. Several substitutes allegedly gave every student a "C" grade because they didn't know the material well enough to grade students.

Teachers at the schools also say that layoffs have led to wasted money. Kirti Baranwal, a seventh-grade teacher at Gompers, said she and three other teachers started a reading program last year. But the other two teachers were laid off, and Baranwal said she had to retrain new staff this year.

"It's a waste of time and money, and it leads to instability for the kids," she said.

Students at Gompers, Markham and Liechty do not have equal access to a quality education as students on other campuses, according to the suit, which also asks that no teachers be fired at the three middle school this year. L.A. Unified is facing a $640-million budget deficit, and officials have warned that teachers could be laid off. The district also has proposed furlough days and shortening the school year to close the gap.

Gompers and Markham are operated by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's nonprofit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools.

The lawsuit names the state of California and the school district as defendants.

-- Jason Song

Photo:   Principal Sonia Miller of Gompers Middle School talks with Elspeth Carden on her daily rounds. Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times

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