Valerie Strauss is a perceptive education columnist for the Washington Post, who many times sees things coming before they happen. Earlier this week she blogged about a heavily-watched lawsuit in California that may portend a massive shift in education law. Lawyers representing students and teachers are claiming that since trauma impacts a child’s ability to learn and academic performance, school districts that fail to address these needs are in violation of federal law.
The suit was brought by Public Counsel, the nation’s largest pro bono law firm, and filed against the Compton Unified School District in California. Why Compton? The web site Trauma and Learning, which has written about the case, speaks directly to those concerns on its web site:
Although trauma is widespread and affects children in all communities, complex trauma is particularly ubiquitous among Compton schoolchildren like students and plaintiffs. Compton is among the most socioeconomically distressed cities in Southern California, and it experiences attendant high rates of violent crime:
- Compton's poverty rate is twice the national average and its murder rate is five times the national average.
- Violence, poverty, and discrimination are so pervasive that in any Compton classroom, the only reasonable expectation is that a significant number of students are likely suffering from complex trauma.
Yes the second bullet raised my eyebrows. The statement …. “the only reasonable expectation is that significant number of students are likely suffering from complex trauma,” gives the reader much to think about. Unfortunately, a factual basis for the lawyer's claims is not on the that list.
No doubt trauma impacts learning. The courts are being asked to determine who will shoulder the long-term costs associated with trauma. Another question the courts might want to consider; Are students merely products of their environment? The decision on the former question– which is likely to be appealed by the losing party – will have massive consequences not only for California, but likely North Carolina and elsewhere. Stay tuned.