Critical Thinking

Case schools in wealthy neighborhoods (Rodriguez & Jongco,

 

 

 

 

 

 

Case Law Analysis: Eliezer Williams, et al., vs. State of California

Aleesa
Bautista Panis

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January
2018

 

 

 

 

 

                In
May of 2000, San Francisco middle-schooler Eliezer Williams and his father, the
American Civil Liberties Union, an international law firm, along with
supporters and students alike, filed Williams
vs. California due to the deteriorating conditions of California public
schools. The catalyst of this motion was Williams’ year-long struggle with the
public school condition of neglected and deteriorating facilities, shortage of
capable and credentialed teachers, and usable materials and textbooks. Proponents
of the case law sought to establish basic and equal opportunities in schools
across California, especially for students of color.

At
the origin of the case law, an average of 68% of students in California public
schools were children of color. Half of all students were low-income, a quarter
of students were English-as-a-Second-Language students. While segregation of
race in school was deemed unconstitutional with Brown vs. Board of Education, racial segregation in the education
system was still apparent due to the accessibility of quality schools and
school features to children of color. Statistic shows that low-income children
of color disproportionately attend inner city, impoverished public schools,
while white children of affluent families have more access to private schools
in wealthy neighborhoods (Rodriguez & Jongco, 2007). In other words, typically
white children of affluent families can afford to travel or already live nearby
a notable private school, while children of color do not have the means to
travel or afford to these schools that promote engaged learning. What more, inner
city public schools not only are overcrowded, but are understaffed or staffed
with teachers without adequate experience, resulting in a vastly unbalanced
student-to-teacher ratio. Meanwhile, affluent schools are populated with well-paid
teachers with exceptional experience and expertise to manage a smaller class.
This institutionalized and systematic segregation of races within the education
system still limits students of color from accessing equal education
opportunities as white and affluent students. 

Even
while this systematic segregation stems from a larger sociological phenomenon
of racial privilege, it could be argued that Williams confronted the systematic segregation within schools. In
essence, the case law challenged the state for allowing low-income students and
students of color to enroll schools with deficient infrastructure and faulty
conditions. Regarding teachers, the case law challenged the lack of capable
teachers, where students have classes that do not have a permanent assignment
of a teacher, teachers with emergency credentials, or teachers not fit to teach
English Language Learner students. Further, the case law addressed the issues
of unkempt facilities, where bathrooms were not only lacking functioning
toilets, but also were crawling with vermin and heavy with mold and mildew,
dysfunctional cooling and heating systems, and classrooms with high level of
ambient and external noise that disrupted verbal communication. The case law
also required the education system to address the lack of extracurricular
activities, research materials such as library, and educational materials such
as usable textbooks so that children would not have to share and can take books
home for homework. Finally, the case law also addressed the overcrowding in
schools, as some classrooms are so overcrowded that there are not enough seats
for all students.

While
this was not the first case in history to address the needs of public school,
students throughout California continued fighting for better school condition.
During this time, students contributed their testimonies of the conditions that
they’ve experienced, documented their educational inequalities, and became
activists to protest the public education system. The case endured nearly four
years of litigation, until August of 2004 when a Settlement Agreement was reached,
and San Francisco Superior Court Judge Peter J. Busch granted preliminary
approval. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed laws in September 2004,
implementing the legislature set forth in the Settlement agreement.

With
the settlement, the state officially acknowledged the responsibility to provide
basic resources and quality education in order to promote engaged learning. As
a result, the state allocated $138 million for additional funding for
instructional materials, $50 million for oversight-related activities, and
another $800 million for critical repair of facilities. It was estimated at the
time of the settlement that 2.3 million California public school students would
benefit from the funding of the case settlement. With the funds, it is hoped
that students are able to have enough textbooks and materials for the classroom
and home, condition of schools to improve in safety and cleanliness, and
teachers to be well trained and readily equipped to effectively teach by the
standards of California and federal laws. In addition to these anticipated
improvements, in November of 2004, the California Department of Education
required the School Accountability Report Card template to be published every
year with the report of the overall condition of the facilities, the number of
erroneous teachers assignments, and open teacher positions, and the available
textbooks and instruction materials.

The
Williams case settlement is an integral
first step to not only improving California’s public schools, but first and foremost
promoting equal educational opportunities for children of color in comparison to
their white counterparts.  This case settlement
will hold California public schools accountable for upholding education standards
of quality to not only meet the lawful requirements, but to also promote the learning
of children of color. As an already vulnerable population in various aspects, an
engaging education for the youth of color serves as an integral piece to their future
success. In feeling empowered through their education, they can grow to give back
to the community and advocate for change for themselves and other marginalized populations.
While equal educational opportunity is not conventionally empowering, as most would
accept that it should arguably be a basic human right. Moreover, this case settlement
can open up an important dialogue between teachers and students, families and communities,
and children and adults surrounding the topic of what good education should be like.
A middle schooler standing up for what he believed in and what he felt like he and
other students deserve can inspire other students within different states to do
the same. It can also allow pressure on the legislature to provide communities with
more information about opportunities available to these public-school students about
transforming the funding within the education student so that schools are well funded
and allocated within schools fairly.  While
this case settlement was certainly a step in the right direction for ensuring effective
education within California public schools, the path toward closing the gap between
institutionalized racial segregation is still continues. 

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