Staff Attorney Alex Santa Ana on Panel at NLADA Annual Conference

Staff Attorney Alex Santa Ana presented on a panel at the annual conference of the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) held October 26-29 in Arlington, Virginia. The panel was on “Cultivating Impactful Organizational and Community Partnerships in Systemic Education Legal Advocacy.”

Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, Equal Justice Society, Disability Rights California, and Cancel the Contract-Antelope Valley organized the panel to share lessons on forming meaningful partnerships between legal and community organizations to address racially disparate policies and practices in public school districts.

For the past two years, NLSLA, EJS, DRC, and CTC have been closely collaborating as they advocate on behalf of students and families to secure district-level systemic reform in the Antelope Valley Union High School District.

The Antelope Valley and its school districts are and historically have been racially segregated and home to multiple, national news-worthy incidents of prejudice and racial violence. Located in a desert region of North Los Angeles County, about 70 miles north of the city of Los Angeles, the Antelope Valley Union High School District serves a racially and socioeconomically diverse student population in grades 9 through 12.

Students at this school district have been forced for years to contend with the District’s ableist, racist, and highly punitive discipline and law enforcement policies, causing overwhelming and lasting harm to Antelope Valley’s most vulnerable youth.

Until NLSLA, EJS, and DRC started taking cases in the region, there were no permanent or comprehensive education legal services in the area, leaving countless students and families with little to no recourse in addressing the pervasive race- and disability-based discrimination, abuse, and educational neglect by the school system and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department with which it contracts.

Cancel the Contract formed in 2021 and is a coalition of community organizations and leaders from across the Antelope Valley. In calling for an end to racially biased policing and exclusionary school discipline in the region, CTC works through community education efforts, protests, social media campaigns, and presentations to various local and state agencies to elevate the plight of people of color in the Antelope Valley and imagine a new vision of community safety and services for students and community. In essence, CTC creates the “people power” critical to achieve change.

Through collaboration across legal services organizations and with community, NLSLA, DRC, EJS, and CTC have published reports and filed several local and state-level complaints on school funding, disability and racial discrimination, and biased policing.

We have cross-collaborated on presentations on our advocacy efforts to local community groups, students and families, and state and county agencies and coalitions. We have supported student groups, parent groups, and other advocacy groups throughout the state in advocating for an end to discriminatory policing and discipline policies and practices that have a devastating and lasting effect on Black students and students with disabilities.

We have partnered together in pursuing a comprehensive investigation into AVUHSD’s abuse and neglect of students with disabilities in an effort to expose and remedy written practices and shadow policies that push vulnerable students further into the margins.