Students, Community Groups, Kern County Office of Education Reach Settlement

A coalition of Latino and Black students, their parents, community groups and the Kern County Office of Education (KCOE) have reached a settlement of a lawsuit involving a dispute over the enrollment of students in KCOE-operated schools.

The lawsuit was filed in 2014 against the Kern High School District, the KCOE and the Kern County Superintendent of Schools (KCSOS), the State of California, the California Department of Education, and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Plaintiffs were represented by the California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA), MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund), Equal Justice Society, Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, Inc. (GBLA), and by Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, PC.  The plaintiffs include families of KHSD students enrolled in KCOE schools, the Dolores Huerta Foundation, National Brotherhood Association, and Faith in Kern. The KCOE and KCSOS were represented by Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud, & Romo.

The lawsuit as originally filed included causes of action alleging the KCOE unlawfully discriminated against students of color, and those causes of action were dismissed as to KCOE by the assigned judge during the course of the litigation.

The settlement resolves the remaining claims which include: challenges to expenditures of taxpayer funds, alleged violations of the statutory limitations on who may be enrolled in county community schools, alleged failure to comply with requirements related to independent study programs, and alleged failure to address educational service gaps in the countywide plan for students expelled from school districts.

The agreement, finalized on May 1, 2019, calls for enhanced communication with parents and students regarding KCOE-operated schools, enrollment options, and available instructional methods at the various school sites. The communication will be through modifications to the KCOE website, to materials distributed to students and parents, and to enrollment-related forms completed by parents, school districts, and the KCOE.

The agreement also provides for periodic internal review of data collected by KCOE, and for trainings by KCOE to its staff and to interested school district staff regarding the statutory authorizations and processes for enrollment of students in KCOE-operated schools.

Under the Agreement, at school sites where there is no traditional classroom instruction option, KCOE will expand its online classroom option to include all core content areas and A-G courses. In addition, five of the student plaintiffs who were enrolled in and/or referred to KCOE-operated schools will be offered career counseling and online career development instruction.

The terms of the agreement also specify that the remaining legal theories alleged against the KCOE remain contested, there is no admission of wrongdoing by any party, and that all parties to the lawsuit agree to pay their own attorney fees and costs.

“We are pleased that we were able to work collaboratively with the plaintiffs’ representatives to resolve the few remaining issues in this lawsuit, and to agree on enhanced communication and coordination with parents, students, and school districts regarding high-quality, student-focused options we offer to students in Kern County,” said KCSOS Mary Barlow.

“We are very pleased with KCOE’s commitment to make changes we believe will have tangible positive impacts on students in Kern County through added focus on the referral to community school process, clearer information to students and parents regarding available instructional options and services, ongoing data review, and offering of services to some of the plaintiffs.  We look forward to working closely with KCOE to ensure these changes are implemented,” said Plaintiffs’ lead counsel Cynthia Rice.

Read the agreement.