PALMDALE — Cancel the Contract Antelope Valley and its partners are calling on the California Department of Education to investigate alleged disability discrimination in the Antelope Valley Union High School District.
Disability Rights California, Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, Equal Justice Society and Kilpatrick Townsend filed an administrative complaint, Monday, with the Department of Education’s Special Education Division and Education Equity UCP Office to request direct state intervention to investigate the District.
The organizations allege that students with disabilities — Black and Latinx students with disabilities in particular — are systematically neglected, punished and criminalized.
“They have no protections,” Lindsay Appell, an attorney with Disability Rights California, said. “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.”
The 45-page complaint alleges that the District’s policies, practices and procedures regarding discipline, policing and segregation of students with disabilities violate federal and state education laws.
“The District recently received the complaint filed with the California Department of Education,” the District said, Monday. “We are reviewing the complaint and will respond accordingly.”
The complaint was filed on behalf of Cancel the Contract-AV and five anonymous students on behalf of all students with disabilities — Black students with disabilities in particular. The students requested anonymity due to fear of retaliation.
The complaint asks the Department of Education to order the District to make systemic changes that end racial disparities and transform its special education system into one that honors its students’ humanity and potential.
“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,” Chelsea Helena, an attorney with NLSLA, said. “When we looked closely at the data, the blatant discrimination against these students was staggering.”
According to the complaint, the District publishes a matrix specifying the minimum and maximum disciplinary actions authorized for violations of various Education Code provisions.
“This matrix gives school staff discretion to recommend students for suspension or expulsion for any Education Code violation,” the complaint said.
Those violations could include the use of profanity and disrupting the classroom, which the complaint said is often disability-related.
“The matrix does not guide school staff about how to exercise their discretion in decisions about discipline and avoid bias in these decisions,” the complaint said, adding that the District had admitted its discipline policy, which was revised in 2014, creates racial disparities, though it has yet to revise it.
The complaint cited 2018-19 suspension data available on the Department of Education’s website. In 2018-19, the District’s suspension rate was 8.1%, while the state’s suspension rate was 3.6%. By comparison, Los Angeles Unified School District’s suspension rate was 0.4%
“Black students with disabilities are suspended at seven times the rate of white students in the district,” the complaint said. “A Black student with a disability in the Antelope Valley has a one in four chance of being suspended, and almost half of the Black students who are suspended by the district are suspended multiple times.”
According to the complaint, District schools operate on-campus detention rooms where staff can send students out of class. A student can be sent to on-campus detention for using a cellphone during class or for disability-related behaviors, even if the student needs reasonable accommodations or their IEP requires other methods to support behavior.
“The District delegates surveilling on-campus detention rooms to campus security,” the complaint said. “Students have no access to teachers or service providers and sit in the room without schoolwork or special education services.”
The complaint alleged the school sites’ Student Support Centers, which are designed to provide positive behavioral interventions and supports, also function as informal on-campus detention rooms.
The complaint alleges that the District policy to use campus security, or school resource officers, to escort students to the Student Support Center stigmatizes students and institutionalizes the center as a punitive, rather than restorative, intervention.
During the 2019-20 School Year, the District removed 284 students with disabilities to the Student Support Center, a rate of 83.6 per 1,000 students.
The District removed Black students with disabilities to the Student Support Center at a rate of 149.4 per 1,000 students, according to the complaint.
In addition, the complaint cited “involuntary transfers” — where the District removes students from general education campuses and sends them to an alternate setting. The complaint said these transfers permit school staff to shuffle students to alternative schools as punishment for minor disability-related behaviors, such as school avoidance or “disrupting” the classroom. T
he District is not obligated to report such “transfers” as expulsions to the state, according to the complaint.
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,” Christian Green, campaign coordinator of Cancel the Contract, said. “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.”