Press Release: May 31, 2016

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May 31, 2016


Media Contacts:

Cynthia L. Rice, CRLA Director of Litigation & Training
510.267.0762 x 323 / crice@crla.org

Larry Gonzalez, MALDEF
202.466.0879 / lgonzalez@rabengroup.com

Keith Kamisugi, / Equal Justice Society
415-288-8710 / kkamisugi@equaljusticesociety.org

 

Court Rules that Lawsuit Can Continue to Fight for
Latino, Black Students in Kern County

Plaintiffs Demand that the Kern High School District Address Its
Illegal Discriminatory Practices against African American and Latino Students

 

BAKERSFIELD, CALIF. -- A ruling last week by the Kern County Superior Court denied the Kern High School District’s (KHSD) request to dismiss the discrimination lawsuit filed against it by Latino and Black students.

The Plaintiffs, including parents and students in the Kern High School District and community activist organizations Dolores Huerta Foundation, National Brotherhood Association, and Faith in Action - Kern County, brought the lawsuit against the Kern High School District, Kern County Office of Education, the California Department of Education, and the State to challenge discriminatory discipline and transfer policies that push African American and Latino students out of district schools and into alternative schools that provide fewer opportunities.

The Plaintiffs are represented by a coalition of civil rights legal advocates, including California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA, Inc.), Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), Equal Justice Society (EJS), Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, Inc. (GBLA), and Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati (WSGR).

The Kern County Superior Court denied the KHSD’s attempt to dismiss the case in its entirety and allowed the majority of claims in the lawsuit to go forward against the district, including its Board of Trustees and Superintendent Bryon Schaefer (“District Defendants”).

In particular, the Court ruled that the allegations of past and present discriminatory conduct on the part of the District Defendants could remain in the lawsuit. However, the Court dismissed the Plaintiffs’ Second Cause of Action, which claims that the District violated the “Free Schools Guarantee” of the California Constitution by denying students in alternative schools the basic quality of education to which they are entitled.  The court also limited the claims that could be pursued by some of the parent Plaintiffs.

Although the ruling allows for the litigation to proceed, and directs the Plaintiffs to file an amended complaint in 20 days, the Court ordered a stay of the case proceedings pending a ruling on the Plaintiffs’ appeal of the dismissal of the State of California from the case, which is currently pending before the Fifth District Court of Appeals.

Plaintiffs intend to seek clarification from the Superior Court and a lift of the stay for purposes of continuing to prepare the case for trial through formal discovery. Depositions had commenced in Bakersfield this week in the discovery phase of the case, however, Defendant KHSD has refused to allow the depositions to be completed or allow further new discovery based on the Court’s stay.

Plaintiffs allege there is a long history of discriminatory practices that has resulted in the disproportionate expulsion and involuntary transfer of African American and Latino students.  When the disproportionality was brought to the District’s attention, the District changed its reporting practices and method of addressing discipline so that students are involuntarily transferred or forced to waive their hearing rights in order to stay in some kind of school setting, which often fails to meet the students’ educational needs. As a result, they end up in the same alternative schools that expelled students are sent to and on the same path to nowhere.

The KHSD, located in California’s Central Valley, has a student population that is 62 percent Latino and 6.3 percent African American.  Over the last five years, discriminatory school assignment policies have made it far more likely for Latino and African American students to be suspended, expelled, or transferred to alternative schools than the general school population.  An equal or greater number of African American students and Latino students are being forced to spend time in alternative schools even while KHSD claims progress due to the decrease in expulsions.  The numbers look different, but the result is that substantially similar numbers of African-American and Latino students are pushed out of regular school settings and assigned to alternative schools that fail to meet their needs or deliver a quality education.

Cynthia L. Rice, Director of Litigation, Advocacy and Training at CRLA, Inc., commented on the school district’s change in practice from excessive expulsions to excessive transfers: “Parents and students should know that it’s a smoke and mirrors tactic implemented by the District to hide the truth. These are not ‘waivers’ or ‘voluntary transfers.’ These are placements that result from the same flawed discipline practices. Parents are coerced to ‘agree’ to a transfer because the only alternative the District gives them is to have their child denied the right to attend any school for 45 days or more while they await a hearing.  Our clients want this practice stopped and replaced by a system that responsibly addresses student behavior and needs.”

Plaintiffs are disappointed by the dismissal of the California free schools cause of action. “It is outrageous that the District believes that it has no obligation to meet a minimum standard of education under the California constitution,” said Martha Gomez of MALDEF. “This is inconsistent with the very notion of the fundamental right to education and threatens students in all schools, but particularly those in economically challenged areas.  We will vigorously oppose that view in our appeal of the dismissal of the State of California and ultimately as to the District Defendants as well.”

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California Rural Legal Assistance:

Founded in 1966, CRLA’s mission is to fight for justice and individual rights alongside the most exploited communities of our society. Through a network of regional offices and cross-cutting programs, CRLA provides legal services to over 43,000 low-income people annually. Our work impacts farmworkers, individuals with disabilities, immigrant populations, LGBT communities, women, children and families in rural areas.

For more information on CRLA, please visit: www.crla.org.

MALDEF

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the “law firm of the Latino community,” MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access.

For more information on MALDEF, please visit: www.maldef.org.

THE EQUAL JUSTICE SOCIETY 

The Equal Justice Society is transforming the nation’s consciousness on race through law, social science, and the arts. Led by President Eva Paterson, our legal strategy aims to broaden conceptions of present-day discrimination to include unconscious and structural bias by using social science, structural analysis, and real-life experience.

Connect with EJS at equaljusticesociety.org, @equaljustice, and fb.com/equaljusticesociety.

GREATER BAKERSFIELD LEGAL ASSISTANCE, INC.

Founded in 1968, GBLA’s mission is to promote social change and justice by providing high-quality legal services to the low-income community of Kern County, California. GBLA assists clients in the areas of housing and homelessness, domestic violence, guardianship, children and family services, health law, consumer law, and others. 

For more information on GBLA, please visit: www.gbla.org.

WILSON, SONSINI, GOODRICH & ROSATI

Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati is the premier provider of legal services to technology, life sciences, and growth enterprises worldwide, as well as the public and private capital markets that finance them. The firm has more than 50 years’ experience providing expert and effective legal services to its clients. A commitment to giving back to the community is one of the founding values of our firm, and WSGR demonstrates this through its robust pro bono practice.

For more information please visit www.wsgr.com.