LOS ANGELES (CN) - A federal class action claims that public school students in Los Angeles are denied the basic education guaranteed by the California Constitution as the district plans to lay off thousands of teachers. Due to California's budget fiasco, the state expects to send out 14,000 reduction-in-force notices to teachers this spring -- nearly 5 percent of the teaching force -- despite its rank as 46th in the nation in per-pupil spending.
Students at Samuel Gompers, John H. Liechty, and Edwin Markham Middle Schools, in the city's poorest areas, with the highest concentration of minorities, were hit the hardest, according to the Superior Court complaint. Already "denied the basic educational opportunity guaranteed them by the California Constitution," according the complaint.
Those schools expect to lose or already have lost 50 to 70 percent or more of their teachers.
Schools in wealthier areas face far fewer layoffs.
And the layoffs affect teachers who were prepared and committed to serve the poor, minority, urban students, the class claims. Such schools have a higher percentage of non-English speakers, less access to materials, and more students with learning disabilities than schools in wealthier districts.
The class of students and parents say their schools had "successfully recruited a critical mass of teachers committed to staying at the schools and becoming a foundation for an experienced, effective teaching corps." But that has been demolished, the class claims.
The class adds that because their schools had the highest concentration of young teachers, they were disproportionately affected by the reduction in force, which dismissed teachers with less experience first.
Since layoffs began, the plaintiff students have been taught by a string of substitutes. Some students have had as many as 9 substitutes so far this school year, several of whom do not have credentials in the areas they teach - or no credentials at all, the complaint states.
(Schools traditionally rotate such "permanent substitutes," as they must pay them more per day after a certain period, so disrupting students' learning saves the state money.)
Many teachers who are assigned to the poor urban schools from the state's "Rehire List" quit after a few days or weeks because they are unable to keep control of classrooms, or they don't want to work in the poor areas, the class claims.
"Effective instruction is not merely a matter of whether a teacher is able to teach the course content; it is also a matter of whether the teacher is able to teach that content to the students who attend that school," the complaint states.
In the past 5 years, Gompers Middle School, in Watts in South Central Los Angeles, has had fewer than 15 percent of its students perform at or above proficient levels on state achievement testing, the complaint states. Markham Middle School, also in Watts, had only 13 percent of its students score as proficient.
California expects to send out 14,000 reduction-in-force notices by this spring, said Ramon Cortines, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent. California has about 307,000 public schoolteachers.
Receiving a RIF notice does not guarantee that a teacher will be laid off; many schools do not complete the hiring process until late August. But receiving a RIF notice makes teachers fear for their job and seek a new one. They become demoralized, distracted and can't focus on teaching, which exacerbates an already devastating situation, the class claims.
The class sued California and the Los Angeles Unified School District, alleging violations of equal protection under the Constitution. They seek an injunction, costs and fees.
Their lead attorney is Mark Rosenbaum with the American Civil Liberties Union.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.