Landmark Federal Class-Action Lawsuit Charges Los Angeles County With Failure to Educate Youth in Probation Camps

For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 
Contact: 

Will Matthews, ACLU national, (212) 549-2582 or 2666; media@aclu.org
Gordon Smith, ACLU of Southern California, (213) 977-9500, ext. 247; gsmith@aclu-sc.org
Laura Faer, Public Counsel Law Center, (213) 385-2977, ext. 113
Carly Munson, Disability Rights Legal Center, (213) 736-8307

Landmark Federal Class-Action Lawsuit Charges Los Angeles County With Failure to Educate Youth in Probation Camps

LOS ANGELES - An
alliance of legal groups including the American Civil Liberties Union
and the ACLU of Southern California today filed a ground-breaking
class-action lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Probation
Department and top county education officials for their total failure
to provide youth in the county's largest juvenile probation facility
with basic and appropriate education. The failure has resulted in
children not being adequately prepared to re-enter society and the
workforce.

The lawsuit, filed in United States
District Court in Los Angeles, charges that county personnel -
including administrators and teachers at the Challenger Memorial Youth
Center in Lancaster, California - have in some instances relied on
worksheets in lieu of substantive classroom instruction, denied all
educational services to children who ask for help and failed to ensure
that students participate in the required minimum school day.

"The conscience-shocking practices
at Challenger are among the most egregious failures to deliver
education and rehabilitative services to incarcerated youth ever
documented in the nation, turning out juveniles who are functionally
illiterate, unable to fill out job applications or medical forms, read
menus or newspapers or vote in elections," said Mark Rosenbaum, chief
counsel for the ACLU of Southern California. "The lives of these young
people matter, yet the county is releasing them in conditions which all
but assure their failure to meaningfully reintegrate, having been
denied even a semblance of an education for years upon years. This is a
system out of control, with no accountability and no concern for the
children under its charge."

The lawsuit is the result of a
months-long investigation by the legal groups and details one recent
instance of a young man, incarcerated in county probation camps for
most of his high school years, who was awarded a high school diploma
despite being unable to read or write. It also alleges that
administrators and teachers directed students to leave classrooms to
perform tasks such as painting buildings and removing weeds, while
billing the state for instructional days as if these students were in
class.

The Challenger center consists of
six camps and a single school that serves about 650 students. It has
been the target of a Department of Justice investigation over
mistreatment and poor supervision of students, and was cited as having
a "broken" school system in a 2009 Los Angeles County Probation
Commission report. The lawsuit filed today goes beyond these findings
and reveals startling new details about how county agencies and
officials have abdicated their core responsibility of providing
education to youths forced to attend school at Challenger.
 
"The failure to provide an adequate
education to detained youth, many of whom are youth of color, only sets
them up for failure and increases the odds that they will remain
trapped in the school-to-prison-pipeline," said Catherine Kim, staff
attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program. "We have a particular
responsibility to ensure that our most vulnerable children be
rehabilitated and prepared to successfully reintegrate into mainstream
society."

Named as defendants in the lawsuit
are the Los Angeles County Probation Department, the superintendent of
the county's Office of Education, the director of that agency's
juvenile court schools and Challenger's current principal. Along with
the ACLU and the ACLU of Southern California, the lawsuit was filed by
the Public Counsel Law Center and the Disability Rights Legal Center.

All three of the plaintiffs named in
the lawsuit, like many other students at Challenger, were unlawfully
removed from class numerous times. Challenger school staff refused to
allow these removals to be questioned or appealed, depriving the
students of their due process rights as well as the opportunity to
learn.

"The students at Challenger deserve,
and are legally entitled to, an education," said Laura Faer, director
of the Children's Rights Project at Public Counsel Law Center. "What
they get instead is abuse, retaliation and needless punishment. These
actions are the hallmarks of an institution that consigns children to a
life in the criminal justice system, which is exactly the opposite of
what it's supposed to do. This is the moral equivalent of placing a
child in handcuffs and throwing away the key." 

Among other things, the lawsuit
seeks to force the county to provide intensive reading remediation
services to current and former students at Challenger who are three or
more years behind their chronological grade level in reading ability,
and to prevent county officials from excluding students from classrooms
without providing them with notice and an opportunity to challenge the
basis for their removal.

"Put simply, the youth at Challenger
are not being given a chance," said Carly Munson, a staff attorney with
the Education Advocacy Program at the Disability Rights Legal Center.
"It is time to stop these children from being treated like they are
throw-away kids. The agencies we have sued today have both a moral and
legal obligation to change their practices, and this is their
opportunity to do it."

A copy of today's lawsuit is available online at: www.aclu.org/racial-justice/casey-et-al-v-robles-et-al-complaint

Additional information about the ACLU Racial Justice Program is available online at: www.aclu.org/racialjustice

Additional information about the ACLU of Southern California is available online at: www.aclu-sc.org

Additional information about the Public Counsel Law Center is available online at: www.publiccounsel.org

Additional information about the Disability Rights Legal Center is available online at: www.disabilityrightslegalcenter.org

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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