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Groundbreaking Agreement Will Examine Causes of Disparities in School Discipline

The National Center for Youth Law (NCYL), along with co-counsel the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund and the Equal Justice Society, have reached a groundbreaking agreement with the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) to identify the causes of racial and disability based disparities in school discipline by examining the subtle, complex, and often unintentional ways in which race, disability, and discipline intersect.

Under the agreement, AUSD will hire nationally recognized experts to conduct a wide ranging review of the district’s disciplinary practices and special education services with particular attention to identifying implicit biases, stereotype threats, racial anxiety, and other unconscious phenomena that could produce disparities.

The effort will also recommend improvements in the identification of students with disabilities and the delivery of special education services and positive behavioral interventions to remediate behaviors that have led to inappropriate disciplinary action.

The expert team will be led by Dan Losen, Director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies (CCRR) at the University of California, Los Angeles who will examine the district’s disciplinary policies and practices, and their disparate impact on African American students and students with disabilities. Professor Jeffrey Sprague of the University of Oregon will review IDEA/Section 504 practices, including assessment, behavioral and academic services. Professor john a. powell of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Phillip Atiba Goff of the Center for Policing Equity, and Professor Rachel D. Godsil of the Perception Institute will investigate the systemic effects of any implicit bias, racial anxiety, or stereotyping in the areas examined by the other team members. The team will deliver their findings by December 31, 2015 along with proposals for any necessary remediation.

This agreement addresses the District’s failure to identify, evaluate, and provide special education services and supports to African American students with disabilities, and the exclusion of African American students through excessive suspension and expulsion (and other forms of exclusionary discipline) that unnecessarily deny students access to classroom instruction.

The agreement responds to complaints of violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1963, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974 brought on behalf of the East County Branch of the NAACP.

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, African American students in AUSD represented only 24.8% of the student population, yet received 57.3% of all suspensions and 61.4% of all expulsions. Further, African Americans students were 35.5% of students with disabilities identified under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), but received 69.3% of all suspensions and 76.2% of all expulsions to IDEA students.

Senior Attorney Michael Harris and Staff Attorney Hannah Benton are working on this complaint for NCYL.

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