By Brendan O'Brien
(Reuters) - Families of 15 public school students sued California on Monday, claiming the state has failed to provide equal education to poor and minority children during the pandemic.
The impoverished students, who range from kindergarten to high school and were only identified by first name in court documents, were not provided devices and internet connections to attend online classes, according to the lawsuit, the first of its kind in the United States.
The children attend schools in Oakland and Los Angeles, and many were described as Blacks and Latinos. The lawsuit also claims that schools did not meet academic and mental health support needs, English language barriers and the unmet needs of homeless students.
The suit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, is asking the court to declare that California education officials have violated the state constitution's guarantee of educational equality and order them to fix the alleged inequities.
U.S. schools districts including those in California, the most populous state in the nation, closed school buildings and moved classes online in March as the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic surged. Since then, many districts, especially in urban areas, have struggled to meet the needs of students, especially disadvantaged students.
"The change in the delivery of education left many already-underserved students functionally unable to attend school. The State continues to refuse to step up and meet its constitutional obligation to ensure basic educational equality or indeed any education at all," the suit said.
The state's department of education did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
One of the lawyers for the families, Mark Rosenbaum, said the lawsuit was the first case in the nation against a state for failure to meet the educational needs of students during the pandemic.
A similar lawsuit was filed against the Los Angeles Unified School District in September, accusing the second-largest school district in the United States of failing to provide a basic education to Black and Latino students during the pandemic, the Los Angeles Times reported.
(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; editing by Bill Tarrant and Cynthia Osterman)