Following Troubling Reports of Discrimination and Retaliation Targeting a Student’s Family, Attorney General Becerra Secures Settlement with the Mojave Unified School District to Implement Wide-Ranging Reforms
Settlement includes provisions to address complaint procedures, student discipline, searches and seizures, special education evaluation, and more
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced that the California Department of Justice (DOJ) has entered into a settlement with the Mojave Unified School District (District) to address critical shortfalls in the District's policies and practices, including in relation to complaints of discrimination and retaliation. The settlement follows findings that the District failed to investigate a report that a principal threatened immigration consequences against the employer of a student's parents in retaliation for advocacy efforts to address a complaint of discriminatory treatment against the student. As part of the settlement, the District is required to take action to resolve several education access and opportunity issues, including improving procedures for handling complaints of discrimination and retaliation, student discipline, searches and seizures, and special education evaluation.
“The California Constitution guarantees each and every child the fundamental right to a public education,” said Attorney General Becerra. “That right must be more than just words on a piece of paper. Today’s agreement is about making the promise of our laws a reality for our students — no matter where they or their parents come from. Our schools are meant to be a safe harbor and place of learning. When that doesn't happen, we must take action to ensure students and their families are treated with dignity and respect. At the California Department of Justice, we’re committed to breaking down barriers and helping all of our children receive the education they deserve. It’s going to take sustained work to make that happen, but we have high hopes for the Mojave Unified School District. With collaboration and dedicated teachers, counselors, staff, and families, we know we can get the job done together.”
"I want to thank the California Department of Justice for its efforts to reach this settlement that puts into place clear corrective actions and removes systemic barriers to student learning," said California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. "A student’s immigration status should never be a factor in how a student is served, and all families should be able to trust that their school leaders will take their concerns seriously and act upon them quickly — without the threat of retaliation or immigration consequences."
“It is unfortunate to learn that a student and his family have been wrongfully affected by a public institution’s failure to ensure non-discriminatory practices and complaints policies were adhered to," said Mojave Unified School District Superintendent Katherine Aguirre. "There is no room for discrimination of any type in a public school setting. As the new Superintendent of Mojave Unified School District and lifelong advocate for equity and inclusion, I am committed to working with the Department of Justice in addressing and leading the District to remedy the deficiencies identified by the DOJ.”
The settlement is the result of a DOJ investigation begun in May of 2019 — with assistance from the California Department of Education — to determine whether the District’s policies and practices denied a student and his family, and other similarly situated students, educational opportunities and access as guaranteed under California laws. DOJ found that the District had not established a legally compliant procedure for responding to complaints of discrimination and retaliation. In addition, the District failed to appropriately respond to allegations of retaliation by a former principal against a student, the student’s family, and another individual. DOJ identified deficiencies under state law in the District’s independent study and supervised suspension programs, search and seizure practices, special education evaluation and alternative placement into county community schools, and student record confidentiality training and protocols. According to the California Department of Education, the District, as of the last school year, served approximately 2,822 K-12 students, nearly half of whom were Latino.
To address the systemic concerns, DOJ and the District worked cooperatively to agree on an extensive four-year plan memorialized in a stipulated judgment that provides for corrective actions to:
- Improve procedures for handling student complaints, including ensuring that staff understand their obligations under the law to adequately respond to and track reports of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation;
- Ensure alternative education programs meet legal requirements, following findings that the District provided only 10-15 minutes of support per week to below-grade-level students in independent study and that students placed in supervised suspension did not have a credentialed teacher for at least half a school year;
- Train staff in records management, as part of an effort to prevent the loss or removal of confidential student records;
- Address potentially inappropriate transfers to county community day schools, which, if not for expulsion, generally may only occur with the voluntary and informed consent of the student and family;
- Increase the accessibility of special education evaluations, building on the District’s affirmative move to eliminate a screening process in order to help parents or guardians have a meaningful opportunity to engage in decisions about whether to evaluate their child for mental health-related disabilities;
- Reform practices on searches and seizures, making sure there is reasonable suspicion, as legally required, before class-wide or grade-level-wide searches are conducted;
- Notify families of the availability of translation and interpretation services, recognizing that meaningful access to education cannot be dependent on a student’s ability to translate between staff and a parent or guardian;
- Conduct a quarterly community advisory survey, supporting efforts to gage the efficacy of the independent study program and alternative education arrangements; and
- Remedy grievances suffered by an individual student, including by removing certain absences in the student’s record and providing 125 hours of free compensatory education and mental health services.
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. In addition, 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 week, following widespread public outcry and a lawsuit filed by the State of California, the Trump Administration ditched its dangerous directive on student visas. The Attorney General 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 month, Attorney General Becerra sued to challenge the Trump Administration’s unlawful rule that weakens protections for survivors of sexual violence in schools — and simultaneously forces schools to divert attention away from critical work being done to address the effects of COVID-19. 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 and its police department to address discriminatory treatment of minority students and students with disabilities.