Students with Disabilities Illegally Neglected, Punished, Criminalized in AV Schools

Rampant ADA violations and other abuses create a hostile, dangerous environment for disabled students of color

With the right supports, students living with emotional, behavioral and cognitive disabilities can thrive in a school setting. That’s why state and federal law requires schools to identify these students, create individualized plans for their education, and work with their families to ensure they are getting the services
they need to succeed.

But in the Antelope Valley, students with disabilities—and Black and Latinx students with disabilities in particular—are systematically neglected, punished and criminalized.

“They have no protections,” said Lindsay Appell, an attorney with Disability Rights California. “Their futures are in the hands of administrators and teachers who punish them for behaviors associated with their disability, rather than support them so they can learn.”

Disability Rights California, Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA), Equal Justice Society, and Kilpatrick Townsend filed an administrative complaint on March 28, 2022 calling the district’s special education system “punitive, segregated, ableist, and racist.” The complaint—filed on behalf of several families and Cancel the Contract-Antelope Valley, a project of Reform LA Jails—accuses the district of implementing policies that encourage staff to call the police on students, remove them from the classroom, and place them in highly restrictive settings where they are deprived of contact with nondisabled peers. The district also gives school staff discretion to recommend students for expulsion for any education code violation, including conduct as benign as profanity or “disrupting” the classroom.

“Students living with certain disabilities in the Antelope Valley are more likely to be funneled into the criminal justice system than they are to be routed to college,” said Chelsea Helena, an attorney with NLSLA. “When we looked closely at the data, the blatant discrimination against these students was staggering.”

The district’s suspension rate is more than 20 times that of the Los Angeles Unified School District, and its expulsion rate is nearly 19 times the state average. Black students with disabilities are suspended at 7 times the rate of white students in the district. A Black student with a disability in the Antelope Valley has one in four chance of being suspended, and almost half of the Black students who are suspended by the district are suspended multiple times. The data does not reflect the full extent of the problem, as the district classifies some expulsions as “transfers,” which they are not obligated to report to the state. These transfers move mostly Black students out of the general student population and into inadequate placements like continuation schools or independent study.

“It’s clear the district has decided that Black kids with disabilities are throwaway students,” said Christian Green, Campaign Coordinator of Cancel the Contract. “They have in their hands the power to prepare these kids for a bright future, and instead they have decided to condemn them to failure.”

Earlier this year, the district was accused of failing to account for millions of dollars earmarked for high needs students. In the 2019-2020 school year alone, more than $6.9 million intended for low-income students, English learners, and foster youth—the vast majority of whom are Black and Latinx—was left unused or was used for improper purposes, with minimal reporting and seemingly no oversight.