An unprecedented lawsuit filed by students of color on November 30 exposes once again California’s failure to provide for its Black and Latinx students in a digital divide propagated by COVID-19 era online learning. This lawsuit is the first of its kind in the US, as it sues a state for failure to meet the educational needs of students during the pandemic. The demographic of the students are from age K-12, all situated in public schools in Oakland and Los Angeles, with most being Black or Latinx. "These conditions would be unacceptable in wealthier, whiter communities and do not meet the minimum standards set by the California legislature for the 2020-2021 school year," the suit writes, "which the state has done nothing to enforce." The lawsuit names defendants to be the state, Superintendent Tony Thurmond, California Department of Education, and the Board of Education. Plaintiffs include the students involved, as well as Oakland REACH- an organization currently providing online learning to about 350 students since the start of the school year. These groups cite their ability to “provide ‘high-quality remote learning’ for underserved students, but these successes cost money, which they argue the state of California should pay for.” While the suit does demand access to devices, adequate remote learning, the fulfillment of minimum instruction time, and support for students, it also provides solutions that incorporate community organizations that have already been striving to bridge the digital divide for low income students.
Responses from defendants thus far have been noncommittal; a spokesperson for the governor stated that “Throughout the pandemic this administration has taken important actions to protect student learning while also taking necessary steps to protect public health. We will defend our position in court.” Another spokesperson for the Department of Education wrote that because they had not yet reviewed the lawsuit in full, they had no comment.
Ultimately, regardless of how the lawsuit plays out in court, a joint effort is required to support low-income, Black, and Latinx students left behind by inadequate access to technology and a subsequent failing at school and teaching levels to effectively reach students academically and emotionally.