Historic Ruling In Landmark Complaint On Unique Learning Needs of Children Affected by Trauma
Kimberly Cervantes is a Compton student and plaintiff in the landmark case.
Sept. 30, 2015 -- In a victory for students and teachers seeking that public schools address a widespread, yet often ignored public health crisis in America--the barriers to learning caused by trauma--a federal judge issued the first ruling today allowing the case to proceed through the courts.
Peter P. v. Compton Unified School District, filed in Los Angeles by Public Counsel and Irell & Manella LLP on behalf of a class of students and three teachers, seeks that Compton Unified School District 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.
Today, Hon. Michael W. Fitzgerald denied in full Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, argued at the first hearing on the landmark class action complaint on Aug. 20. In a 41-page ruling denying the Defendants' motion to dismiss the case, the court recognized for the first time that complex trauma can constitute a disability that public schools have an obligation to address through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
"This historic and life-changing decision recognizes that children who suffer the disabling affects of complex trauma resulting from exposure to violence, racism, extreme poverty, and other adverse childhood experiences are entitled to equal access to education and the provision of appropriate services," said Mark Rosenbaum, Directing Attorney, Public Counsel Opportunity Under Law.
Research shows that childhood trauma can physically alter the developing brains and bodies of children, which can affect cognition and behavior for decades and lead to symptoms similar to those of veterans returning home from war with PTSD. Childhood trauma stands in the way of academic success for millions of children, especially those in underserved communities. 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. Trauma-sensitive school districts across the nation are beginning to deal with trauma successfully, and when they do, the benefits to kids, to families, and to the community are extraordinary.
"Given today's decision, we look forward to working with the district to expeditiously develop and implement a system of trauma-sensitive support and accommodations that ensure that all Compton students have meaningful access to education," said Kathryn Eidmann, Staff Attorney, Public Counsel Opportunity Under Law.
The lawsuit seeks a remedy centered on proven models of trauma-informed learning being adopted by districts across the country, from the state of Massachusetts to the city of San Francisco, which recognizes the impact of traumatic experiences and helps both students and educators become more resilient in the face of adversity and trauma. The model includes:
- Adequate mental health and counseling service for the highest need students;
- Trauma-informed training and support for all educators and school staff;
- Teaching children skills to cope with their anxiety and emotions; and
- Implementing positive school discipline and restorative strategies that keep children in school and create a safe and welcoming environment.
In addition to denying Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, the Court also denied without prejudice Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification and denied Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction, permitting the case to go forward and be adjudicated after full development of an evidentiary record.
"We are pleased with today's decision upholding the right of trauma-impacted students to vindicate their rights under our federal anti-discrimination statutes, and we look forward to presenting the evidence before the Court," said Michael Strub, Irell & Manella.
- SCPR 89.3, "Compton school district lawsuit equating trauma with disabilities moves ahead," Sept. 30
- Huffington Post, "Why Eight Students' Legal Case is Pivotal to Educational Reform," by Paul Caccamo, Sept. 9
- The Guardian, "Troubled kids get treated if they are white - but punished if they are black," by Tedra Osell, Aug. 24
- Witness LA, "Trauma Lawsuit Against Compton School District," by Taylor Walker, Aug. 21
- NPR, "Are Traumatized Students Disabled? A Debate Straight Outta Compton," by Cory Turner, Aug. 20
- Los Angeles Times, "Compton Unified fights a lawsuit over children's 'demons'," by Stephen Ceasar, Aug. 20
- Airtalk on SCPR 89.3, "Lawsuit against Compton Unified School District poses question: Can trauma be a disability?" Aug. 20
- EdSource, "Injunction would require trauma training for Compton Unified staff," by Susan Frey, July 20
- Huffington Post, "School may be the best place to address trauma for young people, but resources are spread think," by Joseph Erbentraut, May 29
- NBC4, "Suit Claims Compton Unified Does Not Do Enough For Students Dealing With Trauma," by Patrick Healy, May 19, 2015
- The Atlantic, “Holding Schools Responsible for Addressing Childhood Trauma,” by Angela Almaida, May 19
- The Washington Post, “Should schools be required to address students’ trauma? Unprecedented lawsuit says ‘yes.’,” by Valerie Strauss, May 19
- Think Progress, “Students Sue For The Right To See A Psychologist,” by Sam P.K. Collins, May 19
- International Business Times, “Compton Unified School District Sued For Allegedly Ignoring Concerns Of Traumatized Students,” by Sneha Shankar, May 19
- Center for Public Integrity, “Lawsuit says kids traumatized by violence have right to mental health services in school,” by Susan Ferriss, May 19
- Witness LA, “Landmark Lawsuit Filed Against Compton School District for Failing to Help Severely Traumatized Kids Struggling With Learning,” by Celeste Fremon, May 19
- California Healthline, “Calif. Court Case Argues That 'Complex Trauma' Qualifies as Disability,” May 19
- Los Angeles Times, “Compton Unified sued for allegedly failing to address trauma-affected students,” by Teresa Watanabe, May 18
- SCPR 89.3, “Compton schools fail to address student trauma, federal lawsuit alleges,” by Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, May 18
- Associated Press – as in Fox News, “Students with violent, traumatic pasts say they are disabled, sue California school district,” by Lisa Leff, May 18 (also picked up by Miami Herald, San Diego Union-Tribune & many others)
- KCRW 89.9, Press Play with Madeline Brand, “Compton Students Sue School District,” live interview with Mark Rosenbaum, May 18
- ACES Too High, “Landmark lawsuit filed in California to make trauma-informed practices mandatory for all public schools,” by Sylvia Paul, May 18
- EdWeek, “Schools Legally Obligated to Address Effects of Trauma on Students, Suit Says,” by Evie Blad, May 18
- EdSource, “Lawsuit says schools are legally required to address student trauma,” by Jane Adams, May 18
- Christian Science Monitor, “First-in-nation lawsuit in California: Must schools address student trauma?” by Stacy Teicher Khadaroo, May 18
- Huffington Post, “Schools Fail To Help Students Deal With Severe Trauma, Lawsuit Says,” by Rebecca Klein, May 18
- LA School Report, “Lawsuit against Compton USD aims at how schools deal with trauma,” by Craig Clough, May 18
- My News LA, “Lawsuit demands Compton schools better help students dealing with trauma,” by John Schreiber, May 18
- Al-Jazeera America, “Traumatized students sue California district for support,” by AP and Al-Jazeera staff, May 18
- Politico, “CLASS ACTION SUIT FILED AGAINST COMPTON DISTRICT,” Morning Education by Maggie Severns, May 18
Legal Documents & Resources
- Sept. 30, 2015 -- Press Release (PDF)
- Sept. 30, 2015 -- Ruling - Motion to Dismiss (PDF)
- Sept. 30, 2015 -- Ruling - Preliminary Injunction (PDF)
- Sept. 30, 2015 -- Ruling - Class Certification (PDF)
- May 19, 2015 -- Legal Complaint (PDF)
- May 19, 2015 -- Press Kit Announcing the Case (PDF)