By Gohar Galyan, 18, Marshall HS
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When Rasheda Daniels, a 17-year-old at Inglewood High School, applies to college this fall, she will be competing with students who have taken a myriad of AP classes and exams. Rasheda has taken no AP exams. When she started her junior year, Inglewood High School offered only three AP classes—and she didn’t know about one of them.

She found out from her friends that her school offered AP U.S. History, and she had to fight to get into the class. She took the class and earned an A despite the fact that their AP books didn’t arrive until March. She was ready for the exam in May but couldn’t afford the $75 fee. No one told her she could get a fee waiver.

Had Rasheda attended Beverly Hills High, she could have chosen from dozens of AP classes. She would have had all the advantages that an AP class offers: the extra point on the applicant’s GPA; and the chance to earn college credit by scoring a 3 or above on the exam; and the opportunity to study a subject in depth.

But Rasheda isn’t alone: she is one of the 340,000 California students who attend schools where four or fewer AP classes are taught, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Another 81,000 students attend schools which offer no AP classes. This puts students like Rasheda at a real disadvantage. Many of the students who are deprived of AP classes have the same capabilities as their peers in more affluent school districts but they are not challenged enough and are kept out of the best colleges.

Now Rasheda is part of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) over the disparity in the number of AP classes offered throughout the state. The class action lawsuit against the State of California and the Inglewood School District, among others, is on behalf of "California public high school students who are being denied equal and adequate access to Advanced Placement courses."

Without APs, fewer students get into UC schools

After Proposition 209 abolished affirmative action in college admissions, the number of black and Latino applicants admitted to the competitive UCs dropped significantly. The lawsuit is in part a response to this problem.

"In the aftermath of Proposition 209, APs became very important. What is keeping those students out of universities? They can’t compete on an equal footing," said Rocio Cordoba, one of the ACLU attorneys working on the case. "They’re the ones we are doing this for. This is a case that really intends to make a difference for all the students in the state."

But Cordoba said it isn’t only black and Latino students that are affected by the lack of Advanced Placement classes.

"I don’t believe it’s based on race," said Rasheda about the lack of AP classes. "It’s just plain neglect on the behalf of the State of California. It’s not just black and Latino school districts—it’s white and Asian too."

"There’s no reason why any group of people should be denied the opportunity in any part of our society," said Cordoba.

And that’s one of the things that the ACLU hopes to accomplish with this case. Through a court order, they hope to sit down with the state and develop standards that would require high schools to offer AP courses. They hope for an outreach program where parents and students will be informed about AP classes and their benefits and where students will be made aware of fee waivers so that what happened to Rasheda won’t happen to other students.

When the ACLU decided to file the lawsuit, attorneys Cordoba and Mark Rosenbaum searched for students from schools which offer few AP courses to serve as plaintiffs (the complaining party in a lawsuit). Two interns visited the Inglewood campus.

"When we went to Inglewood, students didn’t know what AP meant whereas if you go out to Beverly Hills High School, students assume they’ll be enrolled in AP classes," said Cordoba.

When Rosenbaum asked Rasheda to be a plaintiff, she thought it was cool but she had her fears. What if this case made everyone think that Inglewood High is a bad school? What if her administrators and teachers decided to make her life difficult? What if the lawsuit left her with no time for college applications?

"The more I got into it, the more afraid I got. What if we weren’t successful?… Maybe I should pull out. What kind of change can I bring about?" she said.

With the support of her mom, Rasheda decided to go ahead and sign on as a plaintiff. She was joined by three other Inglewood High students: Darren Dix Jr., Andre Green and Theresa Thompson-Green. "They call me a radical," she says with a smile.

"I am doing this so that kids that want to go to college can be more competitive."

Rasheda remembers with nostalgia all the work she had to do in her AP U.S. History class. Though students had no books for most of the year, they still had to do big research papers, all of which had to be typed. For one of her assignments, she visited two libraries and spent the entire day doing research and making photocopies.

"[The AP teacher] pushed us very hard. He never let us use the textbook issue as an excuse," she said. "You become more disciplined. You can take what you learned and apply it in your other classes."

Like other high school seniors, this fall Rasheda will fill out tedious college applications. She has her eye on UC Berkeley and USC where she hopes to study drama.

"It’s gonna be tough but I am the type of person who will welcome the challenge," she said.

Since the lawsuit was filed, Inglewood High has added nine AP classes. Principal Lowell Winston said the district began working on this change last spring, when five teachers were sent for AP training.