Five Orange County parents, backed by a group that says it defends religious liberty, have filed a lawsuit challenging the state's CLAS student achievement test, which has come under legal assault across the state as anti-family and inappropriate for children.
The suit, filed Monday in Orange County Superior Court, targets the state Department of Education and the Tustin and Placentia-Yorba Linda unified school districts, where schoolchildren are being given the California Learning Assessment System exam.
John A. Mendoza, attorney representing Gary J. and Jaque Anthony, Steven and Diane Lounsbury and Kimberly Gibson, has requested a hearing today in which he will ask that the testing be halted. Mendoza is working with the Virginia-based Rutherford Institute, which describes itself as a nonprofit civil liberties organization specializing in the defense of religious liberty.
Mendoza said he has been inundated by calls from Orange County parents upset about the CLAS exam and intends to add more local school districts to the suit.
"We are seeking that this test just not be given," Mendoza said. "It is an illegal and intrusive inquiry into private, personal family matters."
Specifically, the suit alleges that the CLAS exam violates section 60650 of the state Education Code and the federal Hatch Amendment.
The state code requires parental notification and consent before students can participate in any test in which they are asked questions about their beliefs, or the beliefs of their families, involving sex, family life, morality or religion. The Hatch Amendment requires parental consent before children are given psychiatric or psychological testing.
In addition to a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction against the test, the suit seeks unspecified damages for alleged civil rights violations.
Similar lawsuits have been filed elsewhere in the state by the Rutherford Institute and United States Justice Foundation. Like the Orange County parents, others are also contending that the test, particularly its reading and writing sections, invades parental privacy and measures feelings rather than academic achievement.
State school officials deny that the test violates state or federal law and have said critics are deceiving the public about the exam. Local school officials said they are only following state law by administering the assessment.
The lawsuit comes just days after the state Department of Education notified school officials across California that they can allow parents to withdraw their children from the test. In addition, state officials said districts should make sample exam questions available to parents for scrutiny.
"They can opt out," Tustin Unified School District Supt. Dave Andrews said. "It doesn't make sense. They don't have to take the test."
Mendoza said that parents involved in the Orange County lawsuit did withdraw their children from the test, but that he and others with the Rutherford Institute believe state law requires parental notification and permission for any child to take the test, not the other way around.
The CLAS exam, which was first given last year, is mandated by the state Legislature as part of education reform and is used to compare student work in each school against tough statewide performance standards in reading, writing, math and other subjects. School districts throughout the state have started or will soon start administering the test to students in grades four, five, eight and 10.