Challenging the State of California’s Failure to Ensure Equitable Access to Education During the Pandemic
All students in California have a fundamental right to education under the California Constitution. But throughout our State’s history, this access has been denied to students of color and students from low-income backgrounds – a situation that worsened markedly during the COVID-19 pandemic. California’s extended period of remote schooling, which began in March 2020, exposed deeply embedded inequalities in the State’s education system.
During this period and in its aftermath, the State of California neglected its responsibility to safeguard access to education for all students. The State’s failure to ensure access to digital connectivity and devices and to provide necessary academic and social-emotional supports forced families to navigate a lengthy period of remote instruction with little support. This situation widened the opportunity gap for lower-income and Black and Latinx students – a gap that will persist until the State provides leadership and planning to remediate the harms experienced by these students during remote schooling.
In November 2020, students and community-based organizations joined together to sue the State of California for failing to fulfill its constitutional duty to ensure equitable access to education. The suit sought to redress major deficiencies in California’s remote schooling program, including unequal access to necessary technology and academic and social-emotional supports.
Presently, the lawsuit seeks intervention from the State – including oversight, assistance, and enforcement – to provide critical relief to the families and students it left behind during the pandemic. Plaintiffs aim to ensure that all California schoolchildren receive the necessary resources and support to make up for the learning time they were unlawfully denied.
UPDATE: February 1, 2024 – In one of the largest education-related settlements in U.S. history, the State of California has agreed to dedicate at least $2 billion in funding to help students who fell behind during the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding will go towards evidence-based programs proven to increase student outcomes. For more info, see the press release here, and the settlement here.
Superior Court of the State of California, County of Alameda
Case Developments and Key Developments
Students Reach Settlement with State of California
State of California agrees to dedicate at least $2 billion in funding for evidence-based programs to help students who fell behind during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Expert Report and Addendum of Andrew Ho, Ph.D.
Andrew Ho is a psychometrician and the Charles William Eliot Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He provides his professional opinion regarding the meaning of test score results in California through the COVID-19 pandemic. His addendum analyzes 2022-2023 test scores and reinforces his previous conclusions.
Motion for Summary Adjudication
The Court ruled largely in Plaintiffs’ favor, denying the State’s Motion for Summary Adjudication on all but one of Plaintiffs’ claims.
In its ruling, the Court highlighted several key facts:
- “800,000 to 1 million students lacked connectivity or devices to connect” during the pandemic.
- The State was “aware of this lack of access and estimated that it would cost $400-500 million to remedy this, but only raised about $18 million for this purpose.
- The State “also knew that socioeconomically disadvantaged and students of color had higher percentages of lack of access to connectivity and digital devices than other students.”
“The Court, having taken the matter under submission on 05/18/2022, now rules as follows: The Demurrer of the State to Amended and Supplemental Complaint is OVERRULED except for the demurrer to fifth cause of action (Ed Code 43500), which is SUSTAINED WITHOUT LEAVE TO AMEND. The motion of the State to strike portions of the Amended and Supplemental Complaint is DENIED.”
First Amended Complaint
Motion for Preliminary Injunction
- Cayla J., a fourth grader at an Oakland Unified school
- Kai J., a fourth grader at an Oakland Unified school
- Ellori J., a second grader at an Oakland Unified school
- Megan O., a first grader at a Los Angeles Unified elementary school
- Matilda O., a fourth grader at a Los Angeles Unified elementary school
- Alex R., a fifth grader at a Los Angeles Unified magnet school
- Bella R., a third grader at Los Angeles Unified magnet school
- Isaac I., a ninth grader at a Los Angeles Unified school
- Joshua I., a student at a Los Angeles Unified elementary school
The Oakland REACH and Community Coalition, previously plaintiffs, are now supporting partners. They remain committed to ensuring the State provides critical relief to the families and students left behind during the pandemic.
The Oakland REACH is a parent-run, parent-led group committed to empowering families from our most underserved communities to demand high-quality schools for our children. To date, we have engaged over 5,000 parents by hosting one-on-one conversations about how schools are doing. Because of our relationships with families and proven track record organizing grassroots campaigns that have resulted in policy wins and system shifts, The Oakland REACH is in an incredibly unique position to support the community during COVID19. We launched our biggest and boldest initiative yet, the City-Wide Virtual Family Hub in June 2020 with 200 families. Phase two launched this fall with nearly double the number of students.
Community Coalition is a community organizing institution whose mission it is to transform the social and economic conditions in South LA that foster addiction, crime, violence and poverty by building a community institution that involves thousands in creating, influencing and changing public policy.
- Mark Rosenbaum, Robins Kaplan Director
- Amanda Mangaser Savage, Supervising Senior Staff Attorney
- Kathryn Eidmann, Vice President, Chief of Litigation and Legal Programs
- Thomas Epstein, Public Interest Fellow
- Rocio Garcia, Senior Paralegal/Organizer
- Ash Rojo, Paralegal/Organizer
- Suzanne Castillo, Organizer
Morrison & Foerster is a global law firm with more than 1,000 lawyers in 16 offices across the U.S., Europe, and Asia. Our clients include some of the largest financial institutions, investment banks, Fortune 100, and technology and life sciences companies. Our lawyers are committed to achieving innovative and business-minded results for our clients, while preserving the differences that make us stronger. The firm also has a long history of commitment to the community through providing pro bono legal services, including litigating for civil rights and civil liberties, improving public education for poor children, advocating for veterans, promoting international human rights, winning asylum for the persecuted, and safeguarding the environment.
- Historic Settlement Promises New Resources for Children Left Behind During Pandemic, 2/1/24
- Community-based Organizations and Students File Injunction for Expansive and Equitable Relief as In-person and Hybrid Learning Take Hold, 5/3/21
- California Parents and Advocates Sue the State for Constitutional Right to Education as Setbacks Continue Under Remote Learning, 11/30/2020
- CalMatters, Parents’ lawsuit forces California to spend $2 billion on learning loss. Here’s what will change, 2/2/24
- CNN, California agrees to $2 billion settlement over Covid pandemic learning loss for struggling students, 2/1/24
- NY Times, California Aims $2 Billion at Students Hurt by Remote Learning to Settle Lawsuit, 2/1/24
- LA Times, Landmark California schools settlement sets strict rules for $2 billion in pandemic aid, 2/1/24
- Daily Journal, State will pay $2B to help students who fell behind during the pandemic, 2/1/24
- SF Chronicle, California agrees to spend $2 billion for schoolkids disadvantaged during pandemic, 2/1/24
- EdSource, California agrees to target the most struggling students to settle learning-loss lawsuit, 2/1/24
- KCRW, CA students stuck with pandemic learning loss win settlement, 2/1/24
- Courthouse News Service, California commits $2 billion and vows legislation to help students catch up post-pandemic, 2/1/24
- Education Week, To Settle a Lawsuit, California Will Shift $2 Billion to Students Hurt by Pandemic Shutdowns, 2/1/24
- Politico Pro, California settles Covid learning loss case with families, 2/1/24
- Inside Higher Ed, California Drops Effort to Bar Professor as Expert Witness, 8/28/23
- The San Diego Union-Tribune, Opinion: California education leaders should be embarrassed by efforts to hide K-12 shortcomings, 8/25/23
- CalMatters, California walks back decision to muzzle researchers testifying in pandemic education lawsuit, 8/23/23
- EdSource, The case of Cayla J: Judge to decide if California failed low-income students during Covid, 8/22/23
- Education Week, Lawsuit Spotlights California’s Restrictions on Researchers’ Use of Its Education Data, 8/22/23
- EdSource, California Ed Department backs down on punishing education researchers who testify against it, 8/18/23
- Politico, California drops effort to block researcher from testifying in education case, 8/17/23
- EdSource, Harvard Law’s First Amendment experts rally to Stanford professor’s defense, 8/10/23
- EdSource, Critics pan state’s justification for threatening Stanford education professor over breach of data contract, 8/7/2023
- Inside Higher Ed, Barred From Testifying by a Research Agreement, 8/3/23
- EdSource, California moves to silence Stanford researchers who got state data to study education issues, 7/28/23
- SF Chronicle, Legal case argues state educators let down disadvantaged children during pandemic, 7/17/2023
- The Oaklandside, Distance learning lawsuit against California involving Oakland families moves forward, 6/17/2021
- The 74 Million, 1st Hearing This Week in Lawsuit Charging California Denied Equal Education to Low-Income Students of Color During Pandemic, 6/2/2021
- EdSource, Students, community organizations ask judge to order mental health services, internet access, 5/10/2021
- California Globe, California Sued By Parents Over Remote Learning Inequalities, 12/3/2020
- EdSource, California lawsuit charges ‘inequitable’ distance learning, 12/3/2020
- CBS News, COVID Schools: Parents, Education Advocates Sue California Over Remote Learning, 12/2/2020
- Washington Post, ‘Great unequalizer’: Seven families sue the state of California, saying remote learning is leaving Black and Latino students behind, 12/1/2020
- NY Times, California families sue over remote learning, saying minority students have been left behind, 12/1/2020
- LA Times, California is failing to provide free and equal education to all during pandemic, suit alleges, 12/1/2020
- KTVU, 1st suit of its kind: California failing to meet needs of students, teachers during pandemic, 12/1/2020
- MyNewsLA, L.A. Parents Sue State Over Remote Learning Inequities, 12/1/2020
- Reuters, Families sue California, say state fails to educate poor, minority students amid pandemic, 11/30/2020
- USA Today, Families sue California, claiming state failed to educate poor and minority students amid pandemic, 12/1/2020
- Axios, Families sue California over remote learning pandemic measures, 11/30/2020
- KRON4, New lawsuit challenges education for students in CA , 11/30/2020
- Politico, California families sue state over distance learning inequities, 11/30/2020