California Attorney General George Deukmejian filed suit today against a wide array of Los Angeles public officials, charging that it is "cruel and unusual punishment" to send children to the city's schools.
The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, appeared certain to exacerbate this city's tensions. Two years ago, Superior Court Judge Paul Egly ordered the Los Angeles Board of Education to begin mandatory school busing in September in the huge 540,000-pupil district.
"Children are now being compelled to attend schoools where conditions exist which adults would never tolerate in their places of work," Deukmejian said in a press conference in his Los Angeles office. "Adults speak and act for themselves. This lawsuit speaks and acts for children who cannot speak and act for themselves."
The 27-count action does not ask for an injunction, nor does it seek to compel the defendants to carry out any particular action.
It was filed against, among others, the board of trustees of the Los Angeles unified school district, the county board of supervisors, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, City Attorney Burt Pines, county District Attorney John Van de Kamp, as well as the chief of police, the head of the probation department, and the Los Angeles City Council.
The suit, described as the first of its kind in the nation, is based on California law which says that certain classes of individuals have special rights. Thus, it can be construed as cruel and unusual to put criminals in a substandard penal system or mental patients in substandard hospitals.
Deukmejian says that because students are a class forced by society to be in a particular place, they are entitled to be protected from cruel and unusual conditions.
According to statistics contained in the suit, Los Angeles schools are problem-ridden.
In addition to racial tensions among blacks, Mexican-Americans and whites, the 1978-79 school year saw more than 17,000 students suspended for causing, attempting or threatening physical violence. More than 1,700 were suspended for possession or sale of firearms, knives or explosives.
The suit, a complaint for declaratory relief, puts major emphasis on coordinating school district actions with those of probation departments, saying "there is a special relationship" between them.
"To the extent the attorney general's lawsuit can help us, I'm all for it," said school board trustee Thomas Bartman.