MoFo Secures Landmark Settlement Advancing California Schoolchildren’s Right to Literacy

In the first civil rights lawsuit ever brought under any  state constitution to secure  students’ right to achieve literacy, Morrison & Foerster and its co-counsel, Public Counsel, on Feb. 20, 2020, reached a groundbreaking settlement on behalf of schoolchildren across the State of California.

“This settlement is a tremendous victory for the courageous families and community leaders who demanded that the State of California fulfill its obligation to provide every child the opportunity to learn to read,” said Erik Olson, partner at Morrison & Foerster. “The settlement provides an immediate infusion of resources to California’s hardest hit schools, strengthens the state’s literacy infrastructure and knowledge base, and requires data collection and transparency to inform future efforts. We’re thrilled to be part of this wonderful win for the children of California.”

The settlement, among other things, assigns $53 million in funding to the ensure literacy for California’s children, $50 million of which will take the form of grants to 75 low-performing California elementary schools to implement customized three-year literacy action plans. The other $3 million will go toward “the creation of a statewide ‘expert lead on literacy’ who will work to strengthen the state’s literacy infrastructure and training opportunities, and assist grant recipients.”

MoFo and its co-counsel filed the suit, Ella T. v. State of California, on December 5, 2017, in Los Angeles County Superior Court on behalf of students at several California schools and those students’ advocates. The complaint alleged that, in 2016-17, the reading proficiency rates at the schools attended by plaintiffs were between 4% and 11%.

In addition to providing targeted funding to promote literacy, the settlement also addresses school discipline practices that can create barriers to literacy. It requires that the state issue guidelines to reduce racially disproportionate discipline and calls for formation of a Blue Ribbon Commission on exclusionary discipline, which proponents hope will reduce punitive disciplinary measures that discourage children and rob them of instructional time.

The MoFo team—led by partners Erik Olson and Michael Jacobs—included partner Greg Koltun, of counsel Robin Stafford, and associates Roman Swoopes, Dan Hubin, Alessa Yin-Chen Hwang, and Janet Lee.

More information on the settlement and case can be found here.