‘Fake classes’ hurt minority students

After classes started last fall at Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, senior Armani Richards sat for weeks in the auditorium waiting for a complete course schedule. He had been assigned a “home” period, where he was literally expected to leave school early and go home, though he was short one math credit he needed to attend a public university.

As the Los Angeles Times reported, Armani was one of hundreds of Jefferson students who were not assigned academic classes they needed. Instead, they were forced into “fake classes” where they sat in the library or auditorium doing nothing or were sent home early.

This isn’t going on in every California high school, but it is not uncommon in schools that serve almost exclusively students of color. A 2011 study by Education Trust-West found that a major cause for the stark disparities in college access for black and Latino students was schools assigning them into “filler” classes that don’t count toward college requirements.

School districts give these so-called classes different names: home, service, work experience. But those are just code words masking the same ugly reality: They are fake classes that rob our children of learning time and the opportunity for a real education. There’s no point, no purpose and certainly no benefit to our students or our community.

Some suggest that this problem is complex and solving it requires us to move slowly. I couldn’t disagree more. Every year that goes by means more students are denied the chance to qualify for college. This must end now.

That is why I am proud to author legislation, Assembly Bill 1012, that would significantly limit the ability of schools to assign students to classes without any educational content and would create a statewide support system to ensure that school districts stop relying on this harmful practice.

I am building support in the Legislature for this important bill. I’m proud that it passed the Assembly education and appropriations committees with unanimous bipartisan support and that the Assembly approved it Wednesday on a 77-0 vote. I ask our community to rally behind this effort as it moves to the Senate. We owe it to Armani and his peers to make clear that we value their education.

Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer Sr., D-Los Angeles, represents the 59th Assembly District.