Plaintiffs in Kern County School Lawsuit Ask Court to Hold the State of California Accountable for School Discipline Problems


The plaintiffs in a lawsuit to stop ethnically and racially discriminatory student discipline practices in Kern County high schools have filed an appeal against the State of California, which was excused as a defendant by the trial court.

Attorneys on behalf of Latino and African American students in the Kern High School District maintain that the State of California is responsible for addressing discriminatory practices in state public schools.

“We are filing this appeal because, notwithstanding the Superior Court’s ruling, it is clear that the State of California must fulfill its independent constitutional responsibility to ensure that California schools do not discriminate against children of color,” said Cynthia Rice of California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA), an attorney for the plaintiffs.

“The failure by state officials and the court to acknowledge that is deeply troubling. The State of California and the plaintiffs should be aligned and fighting together to ensure equality in education in Kern County. We hope that this appeal will provide an opportunity for State officials to reflect on their duties and work with plaintiffs to ensure that Latinos and African American children are provided with equal access to the education they deserve and need to succeed.”

“Plaintiffs cannot accept the State of California’s abdication of its legal and moral responsibilities to protect our children’s fundamental right to an equal educational opportunity,” said Martha L. Gomez, MALDEF Staff Attorney.  “We hope the Court of Appeals reverses the trial court’s erroneous decision to dismiss the State of California from this lawsuit.”

The goal of the lawsuit is to correct the current discipline practices and school transfer policies to eliminate the disproportionate suspensions, expulsions and involuntary transfers of students of color; to foster a safe educational environment with effective discipline responses; and to ensure equal educational access for all students.

The plaintiffs in this lawsuit include parents and students enrolled in the Kern High School District, taxpayer plaintiff Lori de León, and community organizations Dolores Huerta Foundation, National Brotherhood Association, and Faith in Action Kern County. The plaintiffs are represented by a coalition of civil rights legal advocates and pro bono counsel, including CRLA, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), Equal Justice Society, Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, Inc. (GBLA), and Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati.

The Kern High School District, 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, and assigned to alternative schools operated by the Kern High School District or Kern County Office of Education.

The complaint alleges that the enrollment of African Americans and Latinos in these alternative schools is much higher than their enrollment in the general school population and that they are receiving unequal and inadequate education.

Under the California Constitution, the State must provide every student in public school the educational opportunity to succeed to the best of the student’s ability. When disciplinary practices and policies deprive students of that constitutional right to an education, those policies and practices are subject to challenge under the California Constitution. With its increasingly diverse student population, California’s future depends on honoring this constitutional right for all students.


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