Students of Compton Unified School District, California, who have suffered violence and trauma, filed a lawsuit against the school district on Monday, accusing it of failing to prioritize their mental and emotional health while imparting education. The lawsuit is believed to be the first of its kind in the country, which questions whether “complex trauma” can be classified as a disability under federal law.
The lawsuit demands that school districts offer special academic and mental health services to the affected students. School districts are independent governmental units that operate schools.
If the plaintiffs win the case, it is expected that steps will be taken to help struggling, traumatized students from low-income and high-crime minority neighborhoods, the Los Angeles Times reported. The lawsuit also cites a study, which said, according to the Associated Press (AP), that trauma can affect a child’s developing brain and psychology, leading to more absences and poor grades. The case was filed by three teachers and five teenage students.
The lawsuit said that trauma "stems from such causes as exposure to violence and loss, family disruptions related to deportation, incarceration and/or the foster system, systemic racism and discrimination, and the extreme stress of lacking basic necessities, such as not knowing where the next meal will come from or where to sleep that night," the AP reported.
Among the students who filed the case was a 17-year-old, identified as Peter P. from Dominguez High School, who was physically and sexually abused by the boyfriends of his drug-addicted mother. After becoming homeless, he slept on the roof of his high school for two months. "At no time did administrators provide any support or services. Instead, he was suspended," the lawsuit said, according to the AP.
Another student, identified as 18-year-old Kimberly Cervantes, a senior at Cesar Chavez Continuation School, reportedly stopped attending school for weeks due to several traumas, including one where the teachers denounced her bisexuality as being “wrong.” A third student saw someone being shot at the age of 8, followed by 20 other shootings since then. One of the shootings had resulted in the death of a close friend, LA Times reported, citing the lawsuit.
“It’s kind of nuts -- one of the teachers I talked with, she's been there 10 years,” Mark Rosenbaum, an attorney with pro bono law firm Public Counsel, told Huffington Post, adding: “She was talking about the number of students’ funerals she attended. During all her years, she never heard the word ‘trauma’ mentioned.
“There is not awareness of the relationship between trauma and learning,” Rosenbaum said, according to Huffington Post, adding: “There’s not that awareness, nor is there any awareness of the sorts of programs and protocols that actually work in terms of dealing with trauma.”
Darin Brawley, an official from Compton Unified, told LA Times that he has not seen the lawsuit yet and could not comment specifically on it. However, he added that the district will review the allegations.
"We take very seriously all allegations regarding the quality of education of our students," Brawley reportedly said, adding: "The district is committed to providing a quality education to all students and will continue to do so."