Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, forcing remote learning in schools throughout the country, report after report has shown that the lack of access to technology, along with unstable housing has only widened the already existing learning gap for many students of color, those with disabilities and those who come from low-income families. Now, a new lawsuit is trying to hold the state responsible for this growing disparity. 

Seven Black and Latinx families recently sued the state of California for ignoring “longstanding neglect and racism,” among other issues, according to their complaint.

Citing “insufficient attention to the actual circumstances of remote learning,” the suit says Black and Latinx students are suffering from a lack of equipment and quality education, as guaranteed by the California Constitution. Also, that: 

Due to the State’s insufficient attention to the actual circumstances of remote learning, Black and Latinx students from low-income families are being deprived of their fundamental right to a free and equal education guaranteed by the California Constitution. Many of these students do not have access to the devices, connectivity, adaptive technologies, and other digital tools necessary for remote education (the “Digital Divide”). Without these basic inputs, they cannot learn to read or write properly, perform basic math functions, or comprehend state-mandated curricular content. There also are serious bars to realistic remote learning despite the best efforts of dedicated teachers, including difficulty getting devices and software to work, absence of academic or mental health supports, English language barriers, and unmet needs for students experiencing homelessness. In addition, students are being harmed by schools that fail to meet minimum instructional times or provide adequate training and professional development for teachers and parents. 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, which the State has done nothing to enforce.

While the plaintiffs do not blame teachers, they do stress that teachers are unprepared to teach remotely, as some of them struggle with their own digital divide. Instead, they place the blame solely on the state of California, and in their suit, which was filed in Alameda County Superior Court, they list the Board of Education, the Department of Education, and state Superintendent of Instruction Tony Thurmond all as defendants, according to the complaint.

In response, Thurmond reportedly acknowledged the academic discrepancies, saying that “there is no question that this pandemic has disproportionately impacted those who have been made vulnerable by historic and systemic inequities.” Yet he defended his department, telling the Washington Post how hard it has worked to make sure the school system was up and running efficiently to meet students’ needs.

“Since the spring we have secured hundreds of thousands of computing devices for students, pressured internet service providers to expand access, bolstered mental health and counseling resources, made it easier for schools to provide meals and provided published guidance and dozens of training opportunities for educators to strengthen distance learning for our highest-need students,” said Thurmond.

This lawsuit is aptly timed, as Governor Gavin Newsom (D) recently announced that the state would see another, more stringent lockdown if their COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continued to soar. On Nov. 30, the seven-day daily average number of cases was 14,657, the highest in the state since the spring, and almost 5,000 more cases than when numbers peaked in July, SFGate reported.

As for schools, health experts think they may not have to close. “You could conceive of keeping preschools open and maybe continue to open elementary schools,” UC San Francisco epidemiologist George Rutherford told ABC7. “So, I think those are some of the things we might do differently.” 

However, for the families suing their state, whose children are in grades K-12, Rutherford’s suggestion won’t solve the inequities outlined in the lawsuit. They want the learning gap completely closed for good, COVID, or not.

Click here to read the complaint in its entirety.