Judge expands school lawsuitBy RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer Published July 2, 2004In giving the lawsuit class-action status, a judge rules Pinellas schools have failed to narrow the achievement gap for black students
ST. PETERSBURG - A lawsuit charging Pinellas County Schools with failing to educate black children was granted class-action status Thursday.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge James Case made the ruling in a case filed nearly four years ago on behalf of William Crowley, who is black, and his son Akwete Osoka, then a second-grader at Sawgrass Lake Elementary School.
The decision means the suit now represents all 21,000 black students in Pinellas and all black children who attend the county's public schools in the future. . . .
The suit says the district has failed to narrow a yawning achievement gap between black and white students, in violation of the equal protection clause in the state Constitution. It asks the district to craft a solution. . . .
Lawyers for the school district also have argued that the lawsuit should not be granted class-action status because the circumstances of each child's success or failure can be different. But Case rejected that argument, concluding the plaintiffs are arguing that the system has failed to meet its constitutional duty to provide a "high-quality" education to black students.
"Although individual cases reinforce the statistical data, it is the system as a whole that is being challenged, not how that system has dealt with a particular student on an individual basis," the judge wrote.
Case wrote in his order that the plaintiffs "have cited an overabundance of statistical evidence indicating that black students are achieving far below white students in every category and are receiving statistically significantly more discipline referrals than their white counter-parts."