Lawsuit: Black and Disabled Students Suffer Discrimination & Banishment in Antelope Valley

In the Antelope Valley, Black students and students with disabilities are systematically neglected, punished and criminalized under a locally-sanctioned system of discipline that violates state and federal laws and denies them their right to an education.

Now those students and their families are suing the Antelope Valley Union High School District (AVUHSD) and asking the court to halt the abusive, illegal practices that have subjected them to irreparable harm.

It is outrageous that so many generations of students have had their futures harmed by discriminatory discipline practices. Black and Latinx students deserve so much more from us and have the right to learn in an educational environment free from discrimination.

Alexandra Santa Ana, Staff Attorney, Equal Justice Society

“The district is destroying these children’s futures,” said Chelsea Helena, an attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA). “We have done everything possible to get district officials to stop these discriminatory, illegal policies and practices—to no avail. Now we’re supporting parents and students in taking their demands to court.”

School officials in AVUHSD have systematically punished disabled students for behaviors associated with their disabilities and created a disciplinary system that seeks to remove Black and disabled students from school—often into the criminal legal system. District policies encourage staff to call the police on students and to place them in highly restrictive settings. It also gives staff discretion to recommend students for expulsion, even for conduct as benign as profanity.

NLSLA and Equal Justice Society filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on May 24, 2023, on behalf of several families and Cancel the Contract-Antelope Valley, a community group fighting criminalization, racism, and ableism in Antelope Valley schools.

The filing was accompanied by the publication of an explosive independent report that indicts the districts’ practices and reveals a deeply discriminatory disciplinary system.

The district’s own reported data demonstrates its remarkable failure to support and protect Black and disabled students. The Antelope Valley district routinely reports drastically more suspensions than the Los Angeles Unified School District— a district that is 21 times its size.

In 2021/2022, AVUHSD reported 2,762 suspensions—over 50% more suspensions than the Los Angeles Unified School District. That same year, the district suspended one in four Black students with disabilities, a rate more than six times its suspension rate for white non-disabled students.

But those staggering numbers tell only one part of this disturbing story. The district has found a novel way to hide its discrimination by frequently classifying expulsions as “transfers” to evade school reporting requirements.

Through what is essentially a shadow discipline system, the district transfers mostly Black students out of the general student population and into inadequate placements like continuation schools or independent study. They effectively banish Black students with disabilities from school.

“We will not stand by while our children are systematically punished and shoved out of the public schools they are entitled to attend,” said Waunette Cullors, cofounder and Program Director for Cancel the Contract Antelope Valley. “It’s time for the district to give all of its students a full and fair education.”

Geographically removed from the rest of Los Angeles County—and some 70 miles outside the Los Angeles City Center— Antelope Valley school officials have been allowed to operate without much oversight.

Last year, the district was accused of failing to account for millions of dollars earmarked for low-income students, English learners, and foster youth—the vast majority of whom are Black and Latinx. And in a lawsuit filed against the California Department of Education in 2021, the AVUHSD was called out as one of the three worst districts in the state when it comes to discriminatory discipline practices.

Local government officials and agencies in this remote part of Los Angeles County have faced multiple accusations of systemic racism. A wide-ranging Department of Justice investigation launched in 2011 found disturbing patterns of discrimination in housing and policing.

“It is outrageous that so many generations of students have had their futures harmed by discriminatory discipline practices,” said Equal Justice Society attorney Alexandra Santa Ana. “Black and Latinx students deserve so much more from us and have the right to learn in an educational environment free from discrimination.”

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