The district’s superintendent, Darin Brawley, declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying in a statement to The Los Angeles Times on Monday that the district hadn’t yet seen the complaint but would review the allegations.
“We take very seriously all allegations regarding the quality of education of our students,” he said. “The district is committed to providing a quality education to all students and will continue to do so.”
In February, I wrote an article for The Atlantic examining the potential effects school-shooting simulations can have on students. Most of the subjects I spoke to agreed that for individuals with preexisting traumas, realistic simulation drills could trigger stress and fear, therefore putting students at risk of reliving their trauma on school grounds. Yet while mental-health professionals I consulted acknowledged the practice’s flaws, it seemed that, for school districts, the call for safety in an increasingly violent world outweighed the psychological risks at hand.
This lawsuit, on the other hand, focuses on trauma that traces back home—rather than a school setting—a nod to the prevalence of household stressors and the scarcity of mental-health resources in Compton, a city with a notorious reputation for violence. The city’s murder rate, for example, is five times the national average. Put simply, this is about what the school can do to help.
“We hope that this case will set a precedent across the state and nationally to ensure that the trauma to which young people have been so unjustly subjected does not become determinative of their education and life chances,” said Kathryn Eidmann, an attorney with Public Counsel, one of the law firms to file the case.
Behind the complaint are five students and three teachers who are calling for trauma-sensitive services that they say would afford them the “right for an appropriate education,” according to the website.
There isn’t a standard or clear-cut definition for a “trauma-sensitive” model, but the general idea is based on acclaimed programs in cities including San Francisco, as well as states such as Washington and Massachusetts. These programs help train staff in recognizing trauma while educating students on how to cope with their anxiety and depression. Most importantly, the strategies strive to restore and heal rather than punish students for their behavior.
“With regard to CUSD, we hope that the school district will sit down with us immediately,” Eidmann said, “and work out a prompt solution to ensure that CUSD students affected by trauma are no longer denied the support and accommodations they need to learn.”
In the past, childhood trauma has been linked to a number of poor school outcomes, such as failing grades, suspensions, dropouts, and lower literacy rates. In an effort to humanize these realities, the lawsuit profiles several actual students.