Superior court denies preliminary injunction in Cayla J. v. State of California
Lawsuit will continue with a court date in spring 2022
Lady Justice holding scales
On June 15, 2021, the Alameda County Superior Court made its first ruling in Cayla J. v. State of California, denying a motion for preliminary injunction against the state in a lawsuit alleging that California has failed to offer equal education to low-income students of color during the COVID-19 pandemic. The court declined to mandate prescriptive solutions to inequalities that California’s Legislature is already attempting to address. Courts often defer to the Legislature, preferring not to make policy from the bench.

The lawsuit, which was filed on Nov. 30, 2020, claims that low-income students of color have been further left behind academically during the COVID-19 pandemic by disparate access to educational opportunities and digital resources, as some students struggled with obtaining the technology they needed to connect for distance learning and faced other barriers to engaging in remote schooling. The lawsuit also alleges that students have been harmed by schools that fail to meet required minimum instructional times and to provide adequate training and support to teachers.

This first ruling on the case addresses plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction that would direct the state to address disparities in remote education (the “digital divide”), provide mental health and behavioral support for students and teachers, and develop and implement a plan to address learning loss during the pandemic. To obtain a preliminary injunction, the plaintiffs were required to show that they would suffer irreparable harm unless the injunction were issued.

The court found that plaintiffs had presented evidence that shows some likelihood of prevailing on their claims for disparate impact race discrimination against low-income students of color and for access to a “basically equal” education. However, the court also found that the harm that students may suffer if the injunction was not granted and the status quo continued was difficult to measure against the potential harm the state may suffer if the injunction was granted and the court interfered with issues that are the responsibility of the state’s legislative and executive branches.

The court was persuaded that it would be unwise to order the relief that plaintiffs sought on a preliminary injunction. The court found the state is taking steps to address the concerns identified in the complaint, including Assembly Bill 86 (which provided additional state funding as an incentive for schools to offer in-person instruction and supplemental instruction and support for high-need students), use of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan, and proposals in the Governor’s May 2021 revision to the proposed budget for 2021–22. The court noted that these efforts may not be adequate to provide a “basically equal” education, but they mitigated the immediate harm alleged by plaintiffs and diminished the need for a preliminary injunction. The court also stated that it was reluctant to address long-term issues such as disparate educational benefit to certain students with a short-term solution like a preliminary injunction.

The court stated it was inclined to set a trial date in the case for May 2022 so that if plaintiffs prevail then any remedy could be put in place for the start of the 2022 school year.

The court’s order is available at
Please note that the information provided here by CSBA is for informational purposes and is not legal advice. Please contact your district or county office of education’s legal counsel for legal questions related to this information.