In commemoration of Bill of Rights Day, on December 15, 2004, UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA) urged Californians to adopt a Students’ Bill of Rights for all students attending California’s public schools.
To date, the state has not responded.
Periodically, Santa Monica students and others have asked the Santa Monica City Council to create a Youth Commission similar to the City’s Commission on the Status of Women and the Commission for the Senior Community.
To date, the Council has not responded.
In the spring, following a disturbance on the campus of Santa Monica High School, several student groups issued statements regarding changes in school policy.
To date, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District has not responded formally to the students’ statements.
As the 2005-2006 school year approaches, the 2004 UCLA/IDEA proposal remains relevant.
“All California students have a moral and constitutional right to a quality education that prepares them to graduate from high school qualified for a four-year state university, a living wage job, and active participation in civic life,” said John Rogers, UCLA/IDEA’s Associate Director, in 2004. “The state of California must ensure that all students who attend its public elementary or secondary schools have access to a quality education that includes at least each of the following:
1. Fully qualified, well-trained teachers and counselors;
2. Sufficient high quality textbooks and learning materials;
3. School classrooms and facilities that promote learning and health;
4. Safe and caring schools and classrooms free from harassment and violence;
5. Clearly stated academic standards and long range goals;
6. A course of instruction that prepares all students for college, the workplace, and civic participation;
7. Academic progress supported by languages students understand;
8. Fair and authentic assessment that guides instruction and supplemental help;
9. Timely and accessible information about the availability of high quality learning conditions; and
10. An accountability system that allows students and parents to communicate their concerns to public officials responsible for, and charged with reporting on, the provision of each of these rights.
“As we celebrate Bill of Rights Day…we are reminded of the continuing need to ensure that all California students have access to an equal and quality education. The Students’ Bill of Rights upholds these important principles,” said Rogers. “When students and parents speak out, with information about their rights and the conditions of their schools, they represent a powerful force for democracy, education, and access.
“These rights state the type of education that each student deserves,” Rogers continued. “This is not a new topic. Over fifty years ago, in the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the United States Supreme Court recognized that ‘education is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.’
“While this is not a new topic, there is a new urgency today. We look at many of our schools and see run down and overcrowded buildings. We see too many teachers unprepared for their work. We see classrooms that lack books or paper or desks. A Students’ Bill of Rights in California would provide important guidance in upholding Brown’s promise.”
Rogers referenced the state’s recent settlement in Williams v. California as an important step in promoting students’ equal rights to a quality education. Williams is a landmark civil rights case challenging the state to ensure quality learning conditions for millions of low-income students of color. In August 2004, the state of California and student plaintiffs reached a settlement in this case.
“The Williams settlement is an important victory for students, parents and their communities. It creates new standards for measuring whether schools have the basic conditions students need to learn such as textbooks, well-trained teachers and clean and safe school facilities. The settlement also provides many opportunities for communities to become involved and play a major role in holding school officials accountable for showing how well schools are meeting these standards.
“While the settlement is a major step in the struggle for improving California’s schools for all students, it will take the continued action of Californians from all communities to make sure that the settlement’s promise of educational equality is real and lasting. The adoption of a Students’ Bill of Rights would serve as an important tool to support this effort.”
The Students’ Bill of Rights was first drafted by a group of grassroots activists, students and parents who convened at UCLA in the spring of 2001 in response to the poor conditions in Los Angeles schools. Since that time, IDEA’s on-line journal, Teaching to Change LA, explored this topic in further depth through its Students’ Bill of Rights series published between November 2001 and September 2002. This series features articles, essays, maps, graphs, interviews with legislators, policymakers and education activists, and other work focused on the importance of universal access to a quality education.To view Teaching to Change LA’s Bill of Rights series, please visit tcla.gseis.ucla.edu/rights/index.html.