Attorney General Becerra Secures Settlements with Barstow and Oroville School Districts to Address Discriminatory Treatment of Students Based on Race and Disability Status
California Department of Justice investigations uncovered systemic over-reliance on punitive, exclusionary discipline against Black students and students with disabilities
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today entered into separate settlements with the Barstow Unified School District (BUSD), the Oroville City Elementary School District (OCESD), and the Oroville Union High School District (OUHSD) to address discriminatory treatment of students based on race and disability. The settlements come after California Department of Justice (DOJ) investigations uncovered systemic over-reliance on punitive, exclusionary discipline against Black students and students with disabilities. As a result of these findings, the districts have agreed to take significant corrective action — to be overseen by an independent monitor — to ensure equitable treatment of students in a safe environment conducive to learning.
“Our society is built on how we educate our children,” said Attorney General Becerra. “When our schools use punishment discriminately, it has lasting consequences. And when our schools fail to adequately address bullying or racial harassment, we all suffer. If we’re going to make a difference, we must stand up to do our part. Today, school district leaders in Barstow and Oroville have signaled that they are ready to make a difference. Building a better future starts with setting all of our students up for success.”
“Barstow Unified School District serves a diverse community and is committed to the education, health, safety, and well-being of all our students,” said BUSD Superintendent Jeff Malan. “We are grateful for the guidance and direction from the Attorney General’s Office and appreciate the opportunity to better serve our student families by providing focused support to our students of color and our students with disabilities. By leveraging our already existing positive behavioral interventions and supports, extending our bilingual services, and recruiting new talent, we will move forward with ensuring our campus climates, curriculum, and educational practices are equitable. After working collaboratively with the Attorney General’s Office over this past year to reach this stipulated agreement, we are confident that our District will become more inclusive and contribute to long lasting and sustainable educational practices as a benefit to our students and our community.”
“Oroville City Elementary School District is dedicated to providing support and training to all of its students, staff, and community members,” said OCESD Superintendent Spencer Holtom. “Our mission here in Oroville is moving forward together — impacting the future, one student at a time. In Oroville, we focus on the whole child and are doing all we can to help them be lifelong learners. We strive to prepare our students to be not only academically successful, but successful socially, emotionally, and culturally whether we are teaching in person or from afar.”
“The Oroville Union High School District strives to provide an excellent education to all students,” said OUHSD Superintendent Dr. Corey Willenberg. “We are committed to working with the State's Monitor to improve our practices, increase staff training, and modify our student discipline practices, and assure every student will know we take seriously our equity and achievement.”
The settlements are the result of DOJ investigations begun in May of 2019 to determine whether the districts’ policies and practices with respect to discipline violated California laws aimed at protecting students’ constitutional right to education in an environment free from discrimination. Although there are a number of substantive differences in DOJ’s findings with regards to each school district, there are several shared challenges. In each case, DOJ found that aspects of the districts’ policies on discipline were inconsistent with state laws and that the districts had critical shortcomings in other areas such as in the provision of supports for students with disabilities. In addition, DOJ also found that all three school districts failed to adequately respond to complaints of discrimination and harassment, including — in some Oroville schools — the use of racial slurs against students of color.
By the numbers, BUSD’s own data demonstrated that Black students and students with disabilities were significantly more likely to be punished and at greater risk of suspension than their similarly situated peers of other races and without disabilities. Moreover, the rate of days of punishment among students who are reported for defiant behavior in BUSD elementary schools was 168 percent greater for Black students than for their White peers. At OCESD, DOJ’s review of the district’s discipline data from 2016 to 2019 demonstrated that Black students lost days of school due to suspension at a rate 18 times the statewide average. Within OCESD, middle school students with disabilities received nearly twice as many days of punishment as their non-disabled peers. Students at OUHSD faced similar issues. For example, Black students were 56 percent more likely to be suspended out of school than White students reported for the same types of behaviors and students with disabilities at OUHSD lost nearly twice as many days to out of school suspension as students without disabilities. According to the California Department of Education, as of last school year, BUSD served more than 6,400 students, and OCESD and OUHSD collectively served nearly 5,000 students.
To address the concerns, DOJ and the school districts worked cooperatively to agree on separate, extensive five-year plans that provide for a number of corrective actions, including to:
- Revise policies and practices on student discipline, to ensure nondiscrimination — especially in light of studies finding that suspension and expulsion put students at a greater risk of a host of negative outcomes, including future involvement in the criminal justice system, and that students of color are generally disproportionately subjected to exclusionary punishments;
- Strengthen mental health, social work, and counseling services, in order to better address and evaluate the needs of students with mental health disabilities;
- Establish district-wide multi-tiered systems of support, to ensure a focus on teaching positive behaviors, addressing students’ academic and emotional needs that often cause behavior issues, and providing greater interventions for students struggling with mental health issues;
- Conduct regular analyses of student discipline, assessing whether students of a particular race, color, national origin, or with disabilities are more likely to receive discipline and sanctions, including harsher or longer punishments;
- Engage school community with regards to policy changes, including through the use of informational bulletins to emphasize the districts’ commitment to equity and a supportive school environment; and
- Improve procedure for handling student complaints, to ensure staff understand their obligations to adequately respond to and track reports of discrimination, harassment, bullying, and retaliation.
Attorney General Becerra encourages those with information regarding suspected practices in violation of state or federal law in schools to report them to the DOJ’s Bureau of Children’s Justice, through the online complaint form located at https://oag.ca.gov/bcj/complaint, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Separately, information from the State of California on COVID-19, as well as guidance from the California Department of Public Health regarding schools is available here: https://covid19.ca.gov/.
Attorney General Becerra is committed to protecting the rights of students in California and across the country. Last year, Attorney General Becerra issued an alert to all school districts in the state reminding school leaders of their obligation to protect the civil rights of students, especially in the face of reports indicating that implicit bias among school administrators leads to students of color and those with disabilities being disproportionately subjected to disciplinary action. Last week, the Attorney General announced a $600,000 settlement with an online special education services provider aimed at protecting schools and students with learning disabilities. Last month, following troubling reports of discrimination and retaliation, Attorney General Becerra secured a wide-ranging settlement with the Mojave Unified School District. Attorney General Becerra also filed a lawsuit challenging U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ unlawful attempt to siphon pandemic relief funds away from K-12 public schools. Last year, Attorney General Becerra secured a historic desegregation agreement with the Sausalito Marin City School District. He also reached an agreement with the Stockton Unified School District to address discriminatory treatment of minority students and students with disabilities.
A copy of the proposed stipulated settlement with BUSD is available here. A copy of the complaint is available here. A copy of the proposed stipulated settlement with OCESD is available here. A copy of the complaint is available here. A copy of the proposed stipulated settlement with OUHSD is available here. A copy of the complaint is available here. In agreeing to the stipulated settlements, the districts made no admission of liability.