S.F. law firm joins lawsuit on exit exam

Following a Superior Court judge’s decision on Friday to allow a lawsuit against the state’s Education Department to proceed, a second San Francisco law firm filed legal action against the high school graduation exam.

Up to 48,000 seniors statewide had not yet passed the math-and-English test, a new requirement for graduation, as of March. One-hundred and fifty students were from San Francisco.

In February, downtown law firm Morrison & Forester filed a class-action lawsuit claiming that it would be unlawful to deny a diploma to students who have satisfied all other graduation requirements since many of the students who have not passed are attending substandard schools or need alternative assessments to show they’ve mastered the test material.

On Friday, Oakland Judge Robert B. Freedman heard arguments on a motion from the state to dismiss the argument that the state had not done a timely and thorough exploration of alternatives — a legal requirement — to the exit exam.

In his ruling, Freedman cast doubt on whether the “minimum quantum of effort required” was done by the state, and overruled the state’s demurrer.

Morrison & Forester attorney Arturo Gonzalez called the ruling “a very significant win.”

Following the ruling, Public Advocates Inc., another San Francisco law firm, filed a separate lawsuit to block application of California’s exit exam, basing its argument on the fact that the state began giving the test — without consequence to the students — back in March 2001, but didn’t hold a State Board hearing on alternatives until March 2006. Students in the class of 2006 will be the first to be denied a diploma if they do not pass the test.

“They’ve been sitting on their legal duties for years now,” Public Advocates attorney Tara Kini said. “They dillydallied.”

Representatives from the state Education Department did not respond to a request for comment on the ruling.

beslinger@examiner.com

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