Black and Latin students are disproportionately harmed by the state’s inability to monitor and take action against certain school district disciplinary practices, including transferring students to alternative and often inferior programs, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday by parents and an advocacy group.
The lawsuit alleges that students of color continue to be overrepresented in the expulsion and suspension rates reported by school districts each year and that the state has not done enough to address the disparity. He also alleges that the state’s lax intervention and reporting policies allow school districts to mask certain disciplinary practices by transferring students to alternative schools, where specialization and advanced placement courses are not often offered and where compulsory college courses may not always be available.
State policy requires school districts to publicly report expulsions and suspensions, but not student transfers.
Tony Thurmond, state superintendent of public education, and the California Department of Education are named as defendants in the lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
A spokesperson for the education department declined to comment on the lawsuit, which he said officials had not yet looked into.
The plaintiffs, which include parents from Kern and Los Angeles counties and an advocacy group called the Black Parallel School Board, are asking the court to force the state to strengthen oversight of school districts by attacking them. claim to be discriminatory disciplinary practices, including informal suspensions and transfers.
“The students are the ones who lose because no one is playing this monitoring role to make sure they have equal access to education,” said Sahar Durali, a Los Angeles Neighborhood Legal Services attorney who represents the complainants.
Since 2015, statewide deportation and suspension rates have tended to decline, according to state data.
The lawsuit cites the Antelope Valley Union High School District, which serves students in Lancaster and Palmdale. The district reported 61 evictions in the 2018-19 school year, similar to the state’s trend. Black students were overrepresented among those deported, according to the lawsuit.
But after compiling data via public record requests, the lawsuit alleges that the district transferred 573 students to alternative schools, but did not publicly report on the actions, which is not required by the State.
District officials did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.
The lawsuit alleges that districts pressured some parents to sign waivers that waive their child’s right to an eviction hearing, allowing districts to characterize the cases as “voluntary transfers.” Districts also characterize disciplinary actions as “involuntary transfers” or “otherwise known expulsions” when they move students initially expelled for expulsion from general education to an alternative learning setting, according to the lawsuit.
The complainants alleged that allows school districts to report low expulsion rates to hide the “disparate treatment” of black and Latin students and escape accountability.
School districts retain the power to set transfer policies, but plaintiffs said in the lawsuit that the state’s education department “did not exercise significant control over waivers and did not created reporting requirements for voluntary transfers or waivers ”.
School districts across California “are covering up their exclusionary disciplinary practices,” the lawsuit said, and the state’s top educational institution violates the right to equal protection of students under the US Constitution. State by failing to guarantee their right to equal education.
Black students have long faced excessive academic discipline in California, advocates have said. Previously, black parents in the Los Angeles Unified School District accused administrators of sending their children home without formal suspension, a practice known as “off the book.”
The lawsuit alleges that “off the book” suspensions persist today across the state, and the Education Department has failed to address the disparity in reported suspension rates. In the 2018-19 school year, black and Latin students were often over-represented in reported suspension rates.
In the 2018-19 school year, black students in the Sacramento City Unified School District received 41.4% suspensions compared to 15.5% of the population, according to the lawsuit. That same year, in the Riverside Unified School District, Latinx students received 71% of expulsions, but made up 63% of the population.
By not monitoring districts, complainants say, the state further harms students of color, who often face the far-reaching repercussions of expulsions and suspensions, including loss of teaching time and a higher risk of abandonment.
One of the parents suing the state said his son was subject to an informal suspension in 2019, while campuses were still open for in-person learning. The parent, who lives in Kern County, said his 9-year-old son on the Section 504 plan that allows additional support services for students with disabilities has been suspended for not listening his teacher and “destroyed” school property after rubbing his pencil eraser on a chair.
The fourth-grader was suspended for two days and the parent, who requested to remain anonymous, was not given an opportunity to discuss the suspension with the school, according to the lawsuit. She also later learned that her son had been suspended in other cases.
In the 2020-21 school year, when schools across the state were remote, the fourth-grader was barred from attending classes online at least three times, the lawsuit said, with the teacher excluding the 9 year old child of the online games that were part of the curriculum.
“We as parents told them we complained” about the way the students are treated, the parent said in an interview. She said the district did not take parents’ concerns seriously. “We have been overlooked like it doesn’t matter.”
Her son’s attitude towards school changed following suspensions and screams from one of his teachers in front of other students, she said. He used to be excited to go to school, to say hello to his bus driver, but now, she said, it’s “a tough time to get him up and get him ready for school.”
In 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom enacted an expanded ban on the use of “deliberate challenge” suspensions for elementary and secondary school students. Research has shown that such suspensions, which many consider arbitrary, have been applied disproportionately to black students.. Suspensions have also been shown to have a negative impact on students and their academic progress.
The Black Parallel School Board argued for the suspension ban and signed Wednesday’s lawsuit to demand transparency in district reporting.
“Our parents across the state feel like no one is watching these districts doing the right thing,” said Carl Pinkston, group director of operations. “Our members feel frustrated, angry and feel that the state of California has failed black students.”
While the data cited in the complaint was collected before the coronavirus closed schools for more than a year, Pinkston acknowledged that many students are returning to class to deal with the trauma inflicted by the pandemic.
But many districts have moved directly to teaching mode instead of a restorative approach to give students time to adjust to a very structured setting, Pinkston said. With schools receiving federal and state funding, Pinkston said it was an opportunity for the state to devote resources to increased oversight of school discipline.
“It’s a step, a brick, a piece, along a long road to truly bring transformation in the education system,” said Pinkston.