A group of students and teachers sued Compton Unified School District in federal court this week, demanding that the district deal with the learning needs of low-income students affected by violence and trauma at home.
Low literacy, high dropout rates, repeating grades, low achievement, and the school-to-prison pipeline have all been shown to have a high correlation with exposure to trauma, according to Mark Rosenbaum, an attorney with Public Counsel, a Los Angeles pro bono law firm that helped file the proposed class-action lawsuit.
The suit seeks staff training in the recognition of trauma, mental health support for students to cope with their condition and a shift to disciplinary practices based on reconciliation and healing.
CUSD Board President Micah Ali responded that although the district had not yet seen the lawsuit, “any allegation that the district does not work hard to deal with consequences of childhood trauma on a daily basis is completely unfounded.”
“The district remains eager to work with any organizations or individuals who share our mission to provide our students with a 21st century education, one that especially addresses some of the severe disadvantages faced by our community’s youth,” he said in a statement. “But like school districts across this state, especially those who serve working class families, we are constantly challenged to find the resources to meet every identifiable need.”
Ali added that until CUSD was notified of the lawsuit, “no one had come to us to discuss this issue or to express interest in working with us on it.”
According to Rosenbaum, research shows that traumatic experiences can physically alter the developing brains and bodies of children, which can affect behavior for decades and lead to symptoms similar to those of veterans returning home from war with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Rather than taking reasonable steps to address the needs of students affected by trauma, the suit contends, CUSD frequently punished and excluded these children in ways that have made it nearly impossible for them to succeed in school.
“It’s the type of roadblock to learning that our federal anti- discrimination laws were created to address, so that students in these circumstances are not denied equal opportunity to public education,” Rosenbaum said. “There is no greater enemy to learning than unaddressed trauma.”