Hector F. is the father of three children. Brian, the oldest, attended King Elementary School and Kennedy Middle School, two schools in the El Centro Elementary School District, between 2008 and 2011. Brian has been diagnosed with a number of emotional disabilities, including bipolar disorder and attention deficit disorder. While Brian was a student at Kennedy, other students forcibly restrained him, beat him, and forced him to endure derogatory comments and ethnic slurs. In 2010, Hector and his wife reported bruises and scratches on Brian's body to the Kennedy vice-president and Brian's bilingual teacher. Brian continued to be harassed and bullied. In April and May 2011, Brian prepared two incident reports identifying the students who harassed and attacked him. Hector and his wife also wrote a letter to the Kennedy principal. The principal met with Hector and his wife and suggested that Brian be removed from the only bilingual classroom at Kennedy. Hector and his wife rejected the proposal.
Hector filed a complaint against the district for damages on behalf of Brian. The amended complaint alleged causes of action for relief by way of mandate, declaratory relief, waste of taxpayer funds, and negligence. The district filed a demurrer, arguing that Hector did not have standing to bring a lawsuit because Brian was no longer a student at a school within the district, and Hector did not allege that his other children were being subjected to discrimination or harassment. The trial court sustained the demurrer, and Hector appealed. The Court of Appeal reversed.
The Legislature has enacted a scheme of statutes that attempt to protect public school students from discrimination and harassment engendered by race, gender, sexual orientation, or disability. Education Code section 201 provides that "California's public schools have an affirmative obligation to combat racism, sexism, and other forms of bias, and a responsibility to provide equal educational opportunity." As a means of implementing Section 201, each school district must develop a comprehensive school safety plan for each of its schools.
As for whether Hector can enforce these rights, the California Supreme Court stated in 1981 that while a writ of mandate generally will only be issued to a person who has a legal or special interest in the result of the litigation, there is an exception where the question involves a public right and the writ seeks enforcement of that right. In that situation, it is sufficient that the person seeking enforcement is interested as a citizen in having the laws executed. This "public interest exception" has been applied to duties imposed on schools and school districts by the Legislature.
The Court reasoned that there is a clear and important public interest in enforcing the public school discrimination and harassment statutes. And, while sometimes there is a competing interest that would dictate against allowing an individual to enforce a law under the public interest exception, such as a conflict of interest, none of those issues are present here. Thus, the Court of Appeal held that Hector's attempt to enforce the antidiscrimination and antiharassment statutes falls squarely within the public interest exception to the rule that requires the petitioning interest to have a beneficial interest in mandate actions, and the trial court erred in sustaining the district's demurrer. It held that Hector has standing to assert the causes of action seeking mandate relief, as well as the taxpayer cause of action.
Hector F. v. El Centro Elementary School District (2014) 227 Cal.App.4th 331.