BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (CN) - The Kern High School District expels far more Latino and African-American students than white ones and sends them to alternative schools that limit their academic opportunities, parents, children and three nonprofits claim in court.
The Dolores Huerta Foundation, two other nonprofits and 10 people affected by the alleged discrimination sued the school district and its Board of Trustees, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, and the California Department of Education, on Oct. 8 in Kern County Court.
Kern County is at the lower end of the San Joaquin Valley. Its seat is Bakersfield.
Plaintiffs' attorney Sahar Durali, with California Rural Legal Assistance of Delano, told Courthouse News that the main problem is the school district's "unwillingness to move forward toward restorative justice and positive behavioral interventions and supports."
"Before we filed the complaint, we sent a demand letter to the district," Durali said. "We didn't ask for money. We asked for [them to adopt] positive behavioral interventions and supports and restorative justice, to hire an independent consultant to analyze the data, set up a community monitoring system, and remove willful defiance from the discipline code. But we got stone-cold silence from the district."
"We don't understand their obstinacy here," Durali added.
Founded in 1893, Kern High School District (KHSD) serves more than 37,000 students at 30 schools in the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, and is the largest high school district in California, according to its website. It encompasses 3,500 square miles and covers approximately 43 percent of the total area in Kern County.
Of those 37,000 students, 6.3 percent are African-American and 62 percent are Latino, according to the complaint.
"Over the last five years that student population has been subjected to discipline and school assignment policies that have made it far more likely than the general school population for African-American and Latino students to be suspended, expelled, and assigned to alternative schools," the complaint states.
"In 2009-10, KHSD reported 2,205 expulsions, the highest actual number of expulsions in the state of California for a school district, even when compared to far larger school districts such as Los Angeles Unified School District."
The nationwide expulsion rate in 2010 was an average of 1.50 per 1,000 students, and the average in California was 3.49 per 1,000.
In contrast, the average expulsion rate for Kern County was 14.87 per 1,000 and 54.47 per 1,000 students at KHSD, according to the lawsuit.
The school district expelled white students at an average of 18.70 per 1,000, Latinos at 65.85 per 1,000, which is 352 percent higher than the white expulsion rate, and African-Americans at 110.21 per 1,000, which is 589 percent higher than the average for whites, the complaint adds.
After the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights released a report highlighting the "dramatic disparities" between expulsion rates for white students and students of color at KHSD and other school districts across the nation, KHSD purportedly implemented programs to reduce its expulsion rates.
Though the district reported only 256 expulsions in the 2012-13 school year and 80 expulsions in 2013-14, the plaintiffs claim the decrease was not due to suspending fewer students, but to sending them to alternative schools through involuntary transfers and a "waiver" system in which the district "intimidate(es)" and "coerce(s)" parents and students into waiving their due process rights and accepting placement at an alternative school to avoid formal expulsion.