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ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE Alabama Public School System Declared Unconstitutional; ACLU School Lawsuit Could Lead to Major Reform For IMMEDIATE RELEASE April 5, 1993 An Alabama state court has declared the state's entire public school system to be unconstitutional because it deprives school children of their right to adequate and equitable educational opportunity guaranteed under the Alabama constitution. The lawsuit -- Harper v. Hunt -- was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Alabama Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of a statewide class of public school children who claimed that they were not receiving an adequate and equitable education as guaranteed by law. The decision by Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Eugene Reese is the latest in a recent series of state court decisions to find school systems in violation of state constitutional rights to education. Judge Reese's decision was handed down on Thursday, April 1. "The Court's decision is an unequivocal statement that Alabama shortchanged its children by failing to provide an adequate and equitable education in many school districts throughout the state," said Helen Hershkoff, the ACLU Associate Legal Director who supervised the case. "The decision," added Adam Cohen, an ACLU staff attorney who was part of the legal team, "makes clear that the children have an enforceable right to an adequate and equitable education under the Alabama Constitution's mandate of a `liberal system of public schools.'" During the trial, the ACLU presented testimony that painted a grim picture of Alabama schools. In one school, for example, children had to carry bottled water to class because the drinking water was contaminated. In another, human sewage from a broken septic tank was strewn over the field in which the children played. In school after school, children lacked textbooks, computers, courses in basic subjects like math and science and attended class in unsafe and deteriorating facilities. "The real issue here is whether these deficiencies and conditions rise to the level of deprivations of constitutional and statutory rights," Judge Reese wrote in his decision. "In the opinion of the Court, they do." Relying on the testimony of educational expert Dr. Steven Ross of Memphis State University, Judge Reese's opinion noted that Dr. Ross had reported that "in his extensive studies of schools he had never before seen conditions as inadequate as those prevailing among some of Alabama's poorest schools." His opinion also noted that ACLU witnesses testified that "even the wealthiest school systems in Alabama have unmet needs and are hardly rich compared with systems in other states." "The Court found that Alabama's public schools have educational deficiencies that are not only deplorable but also widespread," Hershkoff said. The ACLU called the decision particularly important for Alabama's poorest schools, its poorest children and African American children. "This opinion represents a significant legal victory not just for our plaintiff schoolchildren, but for all Alabamians," said Professor Martha Morgan, a cooperating attorney for the Alabama CLU. "The Court found that the state's failure to provide adequate educational opportunities has had a negative impact on the state's social and economic environment," she added. "Our state as a whole suffers from the state's failure to live up to its constitutional responsibility." The Alabama case had been closely watched nationally because of its claim that Alabama schools were not only inequitable, but also inadequate in terms of the education provided to children. "From the national perspective, the Alabama decision is important because it guarantees children not only an equitable education, but an adequate one as well," Hershkoff said. "The court found that without textbooks, without certified teachers, without computers, and without basic courses, children cannot be expected to learn and develop." Finally, the decision is important because of its reliance on state constitutional law, rather than federal, to protect the children's rights. "For years we have turned to the federal courts and the federal Constitution for protection of basic constitutional rights, and these courts have played, and will continue to play, an important role," Hershkoff said. "With this opinion, however, Alabama's state judiciary joins those in numerous other states -- including Kentucky, West Virginia, Missouri, and, most recently, Tennessee -- in holding that a state's own constitution guarantees all children in the state adequate and equitable educational opportunities." --endit-- ============================================================= ACLU Free Reading Room | A publications and information resource of the gopher:// | American Civil Liberties Union National Office | | "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty"


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