California Lawsuit Alleges Educational Inequities During Remote Learning


California Lawsuit Alleges Educational Inequities During Remote Learning

Dec 3, 2020

Remote learning during the pandemic has failed to deliver a free and equal education to students in California, violating the state constitution. So charges a new lawsuit filed by seven families in Alameda County Superior Court in California on Monday, arguing that the state has “left many already-underserved students functionally unable to attend school,” particularly Black and Latinx students from low-income families.

The suit also argues that the state has failed to ensure that students have the technological devices and internet access to participate fully in remote learning, citing plaintiff experiences like the following:

  • Two brothers in Oakland, Calif., had to share a Chromebook for three weeks, until a teacher intervened and obtained a computer for the second brother. The family had poor and inconsistent internet access and the school did not provide an internet hotspot.
  • A kindergarten student in south Los Angeles had to access remote learning resources through her parents’ phones after the school-provided computer failed to work. She was eventually able to obtain a computer through a local nonprofit, but is still waiting for the school to provide a wireless hotspot. The student’s family must pay out-of-pocket for basic supplies such as paper and printed materials.

The lawsuit also takes the state to task for failing to set or enforce adequate instructional time requirements, provide training and resources to teachers and caregivers, or otherwise support educational quality during remote learning. Among the plaintiff experiences cited:

  • Twins in Oakland, Calif., met with their teacher only twice between school closures in mid-March 2020 and the end of the 2019-2020 school year. During the current academic year, the twins meet with their class once for a 45-minute video session at the beginning of the day and for 30-minutes for a small group session later in the day. The remainder of the day is spent learning on their own. The family of the twins have not been offered training to use the remote learning program that the school requires.
  • A first-grader in the same city had trouble getting her teacher’s attention in school. When her mother asked the teacher about this problem, the teacher reported that she could only see 6 of the 33 students in the class on her screen and so couldn’t be responsive to the majority of students.

Prior to the pandemic, unequal outcomes were already the norm for underserved groups, the suit states, and California’s remote learning system “has exacerbated the already-unequal education system,” citing emerging research.

Unlike many other states, remote learning has been the norm in California, which has taken a cautious approach to physical reopenings. In an EdSurge/Social Context Labs analysis of 375 school districts across the nation, 143 districts (38%) are now only offering fully remote instruction. But in California, 15 of the 16 districts in the analysis are operating that way.

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