Press Releases

February 24, 2021

Landmark Federal Class Action Lawsuit Results in Innovative Trauma Programming

For Immediate Release: February 24, 2021

Media Contact: Rekha Radhakrishnan, 832-628-2312, rradhakrishnan@publiccounsel.org 

LANDMARK FEDERAL CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT RESULTS IN INNOVATIVE TRAUMA PROGRAMMING

COMPTON, CALIFORNIA – February 24, 2021 – Nearly six years after filing a federal class action complaint on behalf of students and teachers at Compton Unified School District, the school district has created an innovative model of trauma-informed practices that have proven to be an enormous success for students, parents and the Compton community.

“Because of this case and the heroic work of the Compton School District and leading trauma experts in the nation, students and teachers will have assistance in their schools to help address the trauma attendant to racism, poverty, police abuse, and bullying,” said Mark Rosenbaum, Director of Public Counsel’s Opportunity Under Law Project. “The resolution reached here is a template for schools everywhere that are serious about affording equal educational opportunities. A school that is not trauma sensitive is a school in name only, no more able to educate than if it lacked teachers and books. Especially as we see the trauma inflicted on children as result of the pandemic, it is critical that teachers and administrators be trained to identify and remediate its terrible impacts on learning and thriving.”

 Peter P. v. Compton Unified School District, was filed in Los Angeles by Public Counsel and Irell & Manella LLP in 2015 on behalf of a class of students and three teachers, seeking Compton Unified School District to incorporate proven practices that address the barriers to learning caused by trauma-in the same way public schools have adapted and evolved in past decades to help students who experience physical or other barriers to learning.

In the intervening years both the plaintiffs and the defendant collaborated to develop Compton Unified School District’s Wellness Initiative, a multi-pronged program designed to address the academic, social emotional, attendance and behavioral needs of students.

“I am proud of our collaborative work to center the wellbeing of our students,” said Board of Trustees President Micah Ali. “Compton Unified School District has made a tremendous turnaround in academic achievement over the past several years, but that turnaround would be incomplete without wholly addressing the impact of trauma our students experience as well as providing our teachers with the necessary tools for recognizing a student suffering from trauma and how to positively approach that circumstance.”

Compton Unified School District serves students who are disproportionately affected by racism and poverty, and are therefore particularly likely to be affected by complex trauma, a condition in which someone is exposed to multiple traumatic events that can be interpersonal, invasive, and continue for a long period of time. Unaddressed complex trauma can profoundly affect a young person’s ability to learn, think, read, concentrate, and communicate, and social science has linked complex trauma with academic, behavior, and attendance challenges.

“Our work on expanding and building upon existing practices as well as being open to forward thinking initiatives in order to establishing new programs has demonstrated real, statistically proven results that cannot be understated. This comprehensive approach to supporting the whole student that recognizes the unique challenges so many of them face, coupled with recognizing that we need to give our teachers better tools in this effort, was just the first step towards a transition to a new, dynamic way of approaching student trauma,” said Ali.

The wellness program focuses on a few key areas:

      Positive Behavior Intervention Strategies (PBIS) and restorative practices that keep students in school and create a safe and welcoming environment;

      Character education through an Anti-Bullying and Kindness initiative;

      School-based Wellness Centers that provide mental health and counseling services for the highest need students;

      Trauma-informed training and support for all educators and school staff, which also includes a yearly book study; and,

      Teaching students skills to cope with their anxiety and emotions through the implementation of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Programs.

The program has produced concrete results for students in everything from academic performance to substantive class behavioral changes. These gains are especially important given the social and educational lapse students are experiencing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The District has devoted real and meaningful resources towards planning for students’ return when it’s safe including schoolwide debriefs on the pandemic and racial unrest, grief and loss counseling, welcome back activities, virtual parent groups and follow up for students who don’t return to school to assess their status and provide support. Most recently the District has partnered with Care Solace, to support behavioral and mental healthcare referrals for its students, families and staff members. Care Solace equips school districts with a web-based tool that makes it easier for students, families and staff to connect with mental healthcare resources and providers in their communities. As a result, families of CUSD have access to an around-the-clock mental health support.

Read the status report HERE.

Public Counsel is the nation’s largest pro bono law firm. Founded in 1970, Public Counsel strives to achieve three main goals: protect the legal rights of disadvantaged children; represent immigrants who have been the victims of torture, persecution, domestic violence, trafficking, and other crimes; and foster economic justice by providing individuals and institutions in underserved communities with access to quality legal representation. Through a pro bono model that leverages the talents and dedication of thousands of attorney and law student volunteers, along with an in-house staff of more than 75 attorneys and social workers, Public Counsel annually assists more than 30,000 families, children, immigrants, veterans, and nonprofit organizations and addresses systemic poverty and civil rights issues through impact litigation and policy advocacy. For more information, visit www.publiccounsel.org

Compton Unified School District is located in in the south-central region of Los Angeles County. CUSD encompasses the city of Compton and portions of the cities of Carson and Los Angeles. The District currently serves over 20,000 students at 36 sites. CUSD is a school district that is elevating, with a high school graduation rate nearing 90%, dramatic facilities improvements, increasing college acceptance rates and a focus on STEAM throughout all schools. The mission of the Compton Unified School District is to empower leaders to lead, teachers to teach and students to learn by fostering an environment that encourages leaders and teachers to be visionary, innovative and accountable for the achievement of all students. CUSD schools have received numerous awards, including Golden Bell Awards, Blue Ribbon School designations, and Top 10 LA Public Schools by Innovate LA. CUSD is also a member of League of Innovative Schools. The District’s Superintendent, Dr. Darin Brawley, was named 2019 Superintendent of the Year by the Los Angeles County Office of Education. For more information, visit http://www.compton.k12.ca.us.