Families Of Black And Disabled Students Sue Antelope Valley Schools Over Discipline Policies
Black students and those with disabilities are disproportionately suspended, expelled, and denied the opportunity to learn alongside their peers in the Antelope Valley Union High School District, according to a lawsuit filed by students and families Wednesday.
Cancel The Contract filed the suit to end the current disciplinary policies and establish new practices that comply with state and federal law and better support students. The non-profit community group has advocated for the end to city and school contracts with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in Antelope Valley for years.
Attorneys with the Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County and Equal Justice Society, which both represent Cancel the Contract, analyzed district data and found in the 2021-22 school year that the district:
- Suspended Black students at rates four times higher than their white peers.
- Suspended students with disabilities twice as often as those without disabilities.
- Suspended 7.5% of students overall, a suspension rate double the state average and more than 25 times that of the largest school district in the state, Los Angeles Unified.
The suit also describes a “shadow discipline system,” where students are transferred to continuation schools or independent study programs that don’t meet their academic or social and emotional needs. The suit claims the district is aware that its discipline policies contribute to the racial disparities, yet officials have failed to meaningfully change them.
“There's an impact on every student who has to learn in an environment where any mistake could result in them getting humiliated in class, excluded from class, suspended, expelled, or even at worst, subjected to criminal consequences,” said Chelsea Helena, associate supervising attorney of the education rights practice at Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County.
The Antelope Valley Union High School District declined to comment for this story.
There is a history of discrimination toward Black youth in the Antelope Valley. LAist and ProPublica reported in 2021 that Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies disproportionately detained and cited Black teens on public school campuses. Those findings were later confirmed by the County Inspector General's Office.
“The patterns that exist within the state of California are pretty pervasive across the board — Black students and students with disabilities are disciplined more frequently and more harshly than their white and non-disabled peers,” Helena said. “But in the Antelope Valley, this district’s discipline rates are astronomically high when compared to state averages, when compared to the entirety of L.A. County.”
Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County also worked with Disability Rights California to publish a report supporting the lawsuit’s claims.
Bullied and expelled
The students and parents in the lawsuit are identified by pseudonyms and LAist agreed to use these in our reporting because those sources fear retaliation from the district.
J.N. was a freshman at Highland High School in fall 2021, and experienced repeated bullying.
J.N.'s mother, H.N., said her daughter’s mental health declined and the teen told a physician during a routine physical that she wanted to kill herself.
“I’m stressing these facts to the school district and they ignored it,” H.N. said. “Do I believe her race played a major part in that? Yes, absolutely.”
The family is Black and West Indian.
The suit claims the district unlawfully expelled J.N. after she defended herself in a physical attack on campus and sent her to an alternative school without a hearing, “in violation of her right to due process.”
H.N. ultimately pulled her daughter out of the district and enrolled her at a public charter school where she’s now part of the cheerleading and dance teams and enrolled in college-level classes.
H.N. said she wants school staff to be held accountable for their actions, for counseling and therapy that could have aided her daughter.
What might the district have done differently?
“Gave her a way to cope with things,” H.N. said. “Not only admitting that they're wrong, but helping these children be the best that they can be so they can strive and, you know, be a productive citizen within society after their schooling or while in school.”
Students want alternatives to policing on their campus
Wednesday afternoon Cancel the Contract hosted a press conference announcing the lawsuit on the lawn outside Highland High School.
An ice cream truck gave out free soft serve and Takis to students who stuck around after school to listen.
Several of the students told LAist they’ve seen discrimination on campus.
Jamarieh’, a freshman, gave an example:, if there’s a fight between a Black and white student.
“The Black person, even if they didn't start it, like if they defended theirself, they will get suspended,” Jamarieh’ said. “Then the other student will just be there, fine.”
Senior Darrion Crowder said suspensions don’t help students who are caught smoking, drinking, or fighting.
“Most of these kids have problems at home and they don't even have no one to go talk to about, to change their actions and behavior,” said Crowder, who is the son of a Cancel The Contract organizer.
Among the requests in the lawsuit is that the district “provide students with positive supports and services in lieu of School Resource Officer and security staff intervention.”
What does Crowder think that could look like?
“Maybe a better training program for both the school’s counselors and social workers, and maybe their security as well,” Crowder said. “Just so we can have a better connection with the students.”
Resources for families
If the issues in this story sound familiar, Helena, with the Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, suggested reaching out to these organizations for help.
ACLU of Southern California — a nationwide legal advocacy group focused on defending the First Amendment, privacy, due process, and against discrimination.
- Call 213-977-5253 to leave a message or request help online.
Alliance for Children’s Rights — an advocacy organization focused on services for children and teens in the foster care system.
- Call 213-368-6010 or request help online.
Disability Rights California — a non-profit that advocates for Californians with disabilities.
- Call 1-800-776-5746 or request help online.
Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County —free legal services for low-income Los Angeles County residents.
- Call 800-433-6251 or 818-834-7500, visit an office in person, or request help online.
Public Counsel— a non-profit law firm focused on civil rights.
- Call (213) 385-2977, ext. 500 for education advocacy and help with youth law issues or request help online.
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