Three school districts in California have discriminated against black students and students with disabilities by excessively disciplining them. In response, the state has implemented five-year corrective plans. Prior research has shown that school suspensions and the corresponding loss of class time unfairly and disproportionately affects students of color and especially black students.
At Barstow Unified, black students and those with disabilities were more likely to be punished and suspended than others; at Oroville City Elementary, black students were suspended at a rate 18 times the statewide average, while middle school students with disabilities were punished at almost double the rate of students without disabilities; and at Oroville Union High, black students were 56% more likely to be suspended than white students for the same behaviors. After reporting bullying and harassment from white students and teachers, both of Duane Jones’ sons (black Oroville students) were suspended. No action was taken against the bullies. “Our black children have it hard enough trying to learn something and trying to get a good foot in this lifetime without losing their education,” Jones said.
The California Department of Justice said the three districts have a “systemic over-reliance on punitive, exclusionary discipline against black students and students with disabilities.” “Our society is built on how we educate our children,” Atty. General Xavier Becerra said. “When our schools use punishment discriminately, it has lasting consequences. And when our schools fail to adequately address bullying or racial harassment, we all suffer.” All three school districts are now implementing five-year corrective action plans overseen by an unbiased and independent monitor. These plans include updating student discipline policies, reinforcing counseling services, studying student discipline data for potential bias, ensuring students’ academic and emotional needs are met, and effectively addressing student complaints.
Taking legal action
“What we’re finding is that…some of our schools and the personnel in our schools are not complying with the requirements of the law,” said Becerra. “Most of the time it has a lot to do with resources. Oftentimes it has a lot to do with changing laws that folks aren’t keeping pace with. And unfortunately, sometimes it’s that there is negligence.” When schools fail to protect students from bullying or harassment, parents may be able to sue the school. A bullying lawyer can help parents and students navigate the complex legal requirements and practical obstacles that arise in this situation. All forms of bullying (physical, verbal, and social) may be eligible for a lawsuit. However, bullying lawsuits have the best chance of success when based on physical harm.
All three district superintendents report now being dedicated to creating a fair school environment. Supt. Corey Willenberg of Oroville Union High said his district has already improved its student discipline policy and employee training program, while Supt. Jeff Malan of Barstow Unified said the district is working toward strengthening its bilingual services, recruiting new staff, and effectively implementing behavioral interventions.
Cassandra Winter is a professional writer and editor. After a career in PR for an arts charity, she now focuses on writing about her favourite topics from public art to restoration and events. When not working she loves swimming, hiking and quiet nights in with her family.