California school district sued over disciplinary practices

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The East County NAACP sued the Antioch Unified School District in the East Bay Area on July 6 for allegedly failing to meet the terms of an agreement announced 16 months ago. Under that agreement the District would be forced to reduce its disproportionate use of suspensions and expulsions against students of color with disabilities.

“The district has reneged on the agreement that required them to better identify students with disabilities, and improve the delivery of special education services and positive behavioral interventions to remediate behaviors that have led to inappropriate disciplinary action,” said Arlene Mayerson, directing attorney with the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, in a news release.

African American students comprise 26 percent of the district’s school population, but 59 percent of the suspended and 65 percent of expelled students. African American students with disabilities are 12 times more likely to be suspended than their peers, and 13 times more likely be expelled.

The NAACP identified three key factors for these disparities: the District’s failure to “identify and serve” African American students with disabilities, its “subjective discipline code” and its “use of exclusionary discipline rather than educational interventions to address behavioral issues.”

In March 2015, the parties came to an interim agreement. Specifically, it requires the District to retain and compensate leading experts in the field to investigate the District and provide the agreement that the parties would use to “rectify the district’s practices.”

According to the complaint, filed in the Superior Court of the State of California, the District has failed to hold up its end of the bargain. It accuses the District director of special education of lying to union representatives that the experts work would not be confidential, thus discouraging them from participating in surveys necessary for the experts to conduct their investigation.

Moreover, the NAACP also accuses the district of preventing the experts from accessing its internal data records, failing to respond to requests for information, and otherwise failing to negotiate in good faith.

“The District has refused to comply with the terms of the Agreement. Rather than cooperating with the experts, the District has deliberately sabotaged the experts’ performance and thus prevented meaningful and timely review of the District’s practices,” the lawsuit states. “As a consequence, the experts have not been able to complete their investigations or reports.”

The lawsuit alleges complaints under the the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Along with DREDF, Morrison & Foerster, the National Center for Youth Law and the Equal Justice Society are representing the NAACP in the lawsuit.