West Contra Costa Unified School District Sued for Substandard Conditions at Richmond School

Rotting floors, no bathroom, no services

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Richmond – Citing badly deteriorated conditions at the West Contra Costa school district's Community Day School Program, the ACLU of Northern California and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights today filed suit on behalf of two concerned taxpayers against the school district. The lawsuit seeks to compel the district to relocate its Community Day School Program (CDSP) and to provide adequate staffing, instructional materials, and legally required services to its students.

The purpose of community day schools, such as the Richmond-based CDSP, is to help academically at-risk students get back on track. As such, the State of California provides extra funding for these schools, so that they can offer lower student-teacher ratios, individualized instruction, and support services. The lawsuit charges that at CDSP, these services are entirely absent. Instead, the students have been subjected to a school environment that at times has had no electricity, no heat, leaky ceilings, insufficient desks and chairs, rat and feral cat feces, and mushrooms growing out of the floors.

"Just walking in the door, students pick up the sense of despair that this place gives off," says Jerry Belleto, CDSP Social Studies teacher for the past four years. "Every year, we lose kids who might have stayed in school if they had received the services that the district is failing to provide. It's haunting to know I'm part of a system that's just tossing these kids out."

In addition to the decrepit physical plant, the school has no regular math or science teacher, and no designated support services. Students must be escorted to the nearby Gompers Continuation High School to use the bathroom.

"These conditions are tragic under any circumstances," said Jory Steele, Managing Attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. "But they are particularly troubling when the district is actually receiving extra funding to support these students. By requiring students to attend a school that is literally rotting, we are telling these students that they don't matter to us."

Under the state's education code, school districts receive an additional $4,000 per year per community day school student. Despite a Public Records Act request from attorneys, the district failed to produce any record of these supplemental funds having been allocated to CDSP. The school's teachers have been told by the school district that there is no budget for CDSP. Documents furnished by the district reflect an operating budget of $48 for 2011-2012 school year and $152 for the 2010-2011 school year. The school district has also failed to provide records showing the total number of students assigned to CDSP.

Moreover, the lawsuit states that CDSP is housed on an illegal site. Under state law, community day schools legally are required to be on a separate site from other schools. The CDSP is housed on the site of the Gompers Continuation High School.

"Staff of the school tried for two years to work with the school district to make improvements, yet their concerns have not been addressed," said Oren Sellstrom, Legal Director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights. "We hope that as a result of this lawsuit, the school district will finally relocate its CDSP to a healthy and safe location where students are able to learn, and will finally provide the services that CDSP students should be receiving. We cannot afford to let another school year begin with these deplorable conditions in place."

The lawsuit was filed in the Superior Court of California, County of Contra Costa by the ACLU of Northern California, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, with the pro bono assistance of the law firm of Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP.

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