Briana Lamb, a former student at Fremont High School in Los Angeles, talks to reporters about the Cruz v. California settlement agreement.

The State Board of Education approved on Thursday an agreement that will require the state to provide immediate assistance to six California high schools where students claimed they lost valuable instruction time because they were placed in so-called “sham” classes.

The agreement settles the Cruz v. California lawsuit, filed last year by students in high schools in Compton Unified, Los Angeles Unified and Oakland Unified. These students were regularly assigned to multiple classes where they were told to sit idly in classrooms or perform menial tasks, including picking up trash or cleaning erasers. Some students were also sent home as part of the class period.

The lawsuit alleged that the state failed to intervene when scheduling problems and inadequate course offerings at schools resulted in some students spending weeks in classes during which they received no instruction.

This lawsuit “was the first in the nation to address the denial of equal learning time to children residing in many of California’s most disadvantaged communities and attending many of the most underperforming public schools,” said Mark Rosenbaum, lead attorney representing the two dozen plaintiffs and their families.

“These students courageously took on the state of California to end the practice of assigning students in courses with literally no content whatsoever.”

The settlement agreement, which a judge is expected to ratify later this month, coincides with the passage last month of AB 1012. The law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown prevents high schools from enrolling students in classes that lack any educational content for more than one week each semester. The law takes effect July 2016.

Under the agreement, the state Department of Education will:

  • Offer technical assistance and support to the six schools if there are major scheduling problems during the next two years.
  • Create a statewide student information system to track instances of schools assigning students to classes that lack instruction.
  • Issue a policy alert advising all California districts of the requirements of AB 1012.

“These students courageously took on the state of California to end the practice of assigning students in courses with literally no content whatsoever,” said Mark Rosenbaum, attorney representing the plaintiffs.

The suit was filed in May 2014 on behalf of Jessy Cruz, who was then a student at Fremont High School in Los Angeles, by public interest law firm Public Counsel, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the firm Carlton Fields Jorden Burt.

Students from five other high schools – Dorsey and Jefferson in Los Angeles Unified, Compton in Compton Unified, and Fremont and Castlemont in Oakland Unified – later joined the suit.

Plaintiff Briana Lamb, a former student at Fremont High in Los Angeles and currently a sophomore at Cal State Northridge, said the lawsuit settlement and AB 1012 will mean fewer students will struggle like she did to graduate.

“In high school, I missed out on a lot of classes I didn’t even know I was supposed to take,” she said. “I was repeatedly assigned to fake classes while no one, not even my counselors, told me I was falling behind. I felt like my school had given up on me.” Lamb eventually researched on her own the courses she needed to complete to apply to college and spent two summers taking extra classes to catch up.

Los Angeles Unified officials released a statement Thursday saying that many of the scheduling issues that led to students being placed in these courses have since been resolved.

“We are pleased that the plaintiffs and state defendants have agreed that there is no need to proceed with the case, recognizing that the district has adequately addressed the issues raised in the lawsuit once it was brought to our attention,” the statement said.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said the settlement will allow the state to better target schools that may have potential scheduling problems.

“We believe every student should have access to high-quality courses so they can succeed in 21st century careers and college,” said Torlakson in a written statement. “This settlement reaffirms my commitment and the California Department of Education’s commitment to help identify and coordinate local resources for districts with significant problems scheduling students.”

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