Fremont students, teachers join lawsuit against State of California

Suit claims students in inner cities receive fewer instructional minutes than others


Stephanie Valencia

Fremont High School seniors Solomon Munguia, Eric Flood and Edith Quintero are part of the lawsuit against the State of California that was filed today, May 29

A civil rights law firm has sued the State of California on behalf of students at Fremont High and some other public high schools, claiming low-income students are receiving an inferior education compared with the instruction that many students get in higher-income and suburban districts.

Kathryn Eidmann of the non-profit law firm Public Counsel is part of a team of lawyers who filed the lawsuit today at 9:30 a.m. over the disparities in education that leave many low-income students far behind their peers in more affluent schools.

Eidmann visited Fremont in late January to get responses and reactions from multiple students and teachers about the instructional time students receive in a low-income school.

“I decided to join the lawsuit group because I wanted to make a change in the Fremont community, to make sure that all school have equal resources,” said Eric Flood, a senior in the Media Academy at Fremont.

The lawsuit centers on the amount of instructional time lost in some schools due to many factors, including discipline, truancy and absences caused by trauma that occurred in students’ lives outside of school.

Edith Quintero, a senior, was another student who gave her statement to the lawyers. She explained many ways her school days include many wasted minutes.

“I wish Fremont had more elective classes to fill up my schedule and so that I would not just have to be an IWE (a teacher’s assistant),” says Quintero. “Most of the time I am sitting down with nothing to do.”

Quintero has two periods, a third of her day, that are not actual classes because Fremont does not offer enough elective classes for seniors. She is a teacher’s assistant and has an on-campus internship that she says does not provide her with much work to do.

Solomon Munguia gave details in the lawsuit about how he has lost educational opportunities due to a series of substitutes in his senior year. His video production teacher quit without notice in October, and he had a series of substitutes when his government teacher took maternity leave.

“Since the start of this year, my senior year, I have felt the least motivated than I ever have been,” said Munguia.

In addition to Fremont, students at schools in Richmond, Compton and Los Angeles also joined the lawsuit. According to Eidmann, these schools were selected due to their historical low performance and violence around the school along with teachers leaving during the school year.

Eidmann said the law firm chose Fremont for many reasons, including the violence that students here experience. The school also has teachers leaving in mid year, almost daily fights on the campus and low test scores.

Public Counsel is the largest pro bono law firm in the U.S. Pro bono means that the firm takes cases for people who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer, often cases that involve civil rights violations.  It was also involved in the Williams Case, which focused on disparities in textbooks and facilities for students in low-income neighborhoods.

The goal of the latest lawsuit, Eidmann said, is to improve schools and help support teachers by collaboration and mentorship.

Freshman teacher Sonja Totten-Harris was one of three Fremont High teachers who provided details to the lawyers for the lawsuit. She spoke about the need for more mental health support at schools like Fremont.

She believes a therapy class would be beneficial for the Fremont students.

“I want therapy to be an actual class period in the day for every student,” said Totten-Harris.

 Teachers Lisa Shafer and Johanna Paraiso also spoke about the need for more support for students experiencing trauma.

Recently, Fremont was featured on KPIX for a story on the high rate of students in inner-cities who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. About 30 percent of students in Oakland Unified School District are thought to suffer from PTSD, according to researchers.

Eidmann is hoping that one result will be for new teachers to get more support and for schools to get better as teachers improve their teaching skills and the instructional time of students.