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Detained Kids Sue State for an Education

LOS ANGELES (CN) - California's juvenile system deprives children of their "fundamental right" to a "minimally adequate education," leading to serious literacy problems and reduced chances of succeeding in society, a class action claims in Federal Court.

The youths say the Los Angeles County Office of Education, the Probation Department, the Education Division of juvenile court schools and the Challenger Memorial Youth Center have violated their rights through "widespread and well-known" deprivations of educational services. This despite the $30,000 per bed per year cost of detaining them.

The juvenile system, which is intended to rehabilitate rather than punish, has been plagued by the problem for years, the complaint states. It adds that because the named plaintiffs are wards of the state, either in custody or on probation, they are "subject to serious risk of retaliation," and so must sue under pseudonyms.

Casey A., 18, cannot read or write and has been detained at Challenger Youth Center for most of his high school years. The Los Angeles Office of Education "refused to provide him with the necessary instruction and services to overcome his illiteracy," according to the complaint.

Casey says he was repeatedly excused from assignments, assigned to the "work crew" on school days, given passing grades and awarded a high school diploma.

The class claims that youths in the juvenile system are not provided with appropriate screening to determine their learning deficits even though "it is well documented that detained youth are substantially more likely than the general population to have learning disabilities and reading deficiencies."

In Los Angeles, the typical detained youth is 16 years old, yet reads at a 5th grade level, the complaint states.

The class seeks an injunction, remedies and reparations for civil rights violations and violations of the California Constitution and Education Code.

The class is represented by Mark Rosenbaum, Laura Faer and Shawna Parks with the American Civil Liberties Union.

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