Officials of the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) have announced a groundbreaking effort to identify the causes of disparities in school discipline by examining the subtle, complex, and often unintentional ways in which race, disability and discipline intersect.
“When the civil rights advocacy organizations raised concerns, our leadership team made a strategic decision to shift focus from a defensive mode to concentrating toward collaborating on the central theme and shared goal of student success. As the saying goes, think globally and act locally, and that is precisely what we are doing,” said Donald Gill, Superintendent of Schools in the Antioch Unified School District. “The achievement gap and equity issues, national themes of importance and urgency, will receive concentrated attention in our District, and we hope to serve as a model for others who face similar challenges.”
The District will hire nationally recognized experts to conduct a wide ranging review of the district’s disciplinary practices and special education services with particular attention to identifying implicit biases, stereotype threats, racial anxiety and other unconscious phenomena that could produce disparities.
“Implicit bias is a critical component of modern-day discrimination,” said Eva Paterson, President of the Equal Justice Society. “By recognizing that implicit bias hurts schoolchildren, the Antioch school district has taken the first steps to reverse the school-to-prison pipeline that too many Black children are forced into.”
The effort will also identify improvements in the identification of students with disabilities and the delivery of special education services and positive behavioral interventions to remediate behaviors that have led to inappropriate disciplinary action.
AUSD is responding constructively to the complaint that the district disproportionately suspends African American students and students with disabilities, despite denying these allegations. Claire Smith, AUSD Board of Trustees President, said, “I am pleased to share that the Board of Education gave direction in closed session to accept a plan of action that will fortify our work in the areas of student equity and access and provisionally resolve the issues raised by the advocacy organizations.”
Willie Mims, Education Chair of the East County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which brought the complaint said the “disproportionate suspension of African American students greatly harms their chances for a quality education.”
Arlene Mayerson, Directing Attorney with the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF), added “It is imperative that district provide students with disabilities all of the supports and services they deserve. Many of these suspensions can be prevented by providing these students with appropriate academic and behavioral services to address their needs.”
According to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, African American students in AUSD represented only 24.8% of the student population, yet received 57.3% of all suspensions and 61.4% of all expulsions. Further, African Americans students were 35.5% of students with disabilities identified under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), but received 69.3% of all suspensions and 76.2% of all expulsions to IDEA students.
The agreement responds to complaints of violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1963, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974 brought on behalf of the East County Branch of the NAACP by DREDF, EJS and the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL).
“We are very pleased the district is taking the forward-looking steps contained in this agreement which will increase educational opportunity for all students in the district.” said NCYL Senior Attorney Michael Harris.
“Collaborating, communicating, solving problems and sharing goals will allow us to move forward positively to enhance our commitment to help all our students to achieve their potential,” stressed Superintendent Gill.
The expert team will be led by Dan Losen, Director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies (CCRR) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) who will examine the district’s disciplinary policies, practices, and their disparate impact on African Americans and students with disabilities. Prof. Jeffrey Sprague of the University of Oregon will review IDEA/Section 504 practices, including assessment, behavioral and academic services. Prof. john a. powell of the University of California, Berkeley Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, Prof. Phillip Atiba Goff of the Center for Policing Equity, and Prof. Rachel D. Godsil of the Perception Institute will investigate the systemic effects of any implicit bias, racial anxiety, or stereotyping in the areas examined by the other team members. The team will deliver their findings by December 31, 2015, along with proposals for any necessary remediation.