SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Local activists say black students in San Diego County schools are dealing with historical exclusionary practices. They're calling on the Department of Justice to step in and investigate.
An announcement was made by several groups to call out what they call, injustices in San Diego County's educational system at Longfellow Spanish Immersion School.
They also say they’re calling on attorneys to help put together a class action lawsuit.
Parents, activists, and community members gathered at Longfellow Spanish Immersion School to address incidents they say their students have had.
"My son feels there's no one here to protect him,” said Jeannie Chase. “It has left my son frustrated and constantly crying when he explains the story and not wanting to go to school anymore."
Nikia Faulkner, another parent shared her children’s experience.
"When my daughter received multiple texts with dead emojis and knives,” said Faulkner. “Staff told her to erase the texts because she shouldn't want those negative vibes on her phone."
Aminah Walker, yet another mom shared her daughter's experience as well.
"In the first grade while riding the bus, a boy was forced to kiss my daughter,” said Walker. “When she pushed the boy away, she was physically assaulted by two older boys leaving her swollen, bruised and hair disheveled,"
The parents and activists say they believe these incidents are happening to their children because of their race, adding another layer of trauma to their children’s education.
According to data pulled from the 2018-2019 school year from the Community College Equity Assessment Lab Black Minds, Black students are more than 8% of the population in SDUSD and more than 5% of the student population across the state. But they have disproportionate expulsion, suspension and class removal statistics.
"Suspension rate of Black girls is 5.1% which is 46% higher than the district average. The suspension rate of Black males is 10.7%. This rate is 206% higher than the district average."
Tasha Williamson says current efforts at diversity, equity and inclusion are not enough to address the issues across San Diego School Districts.
"We cannot continue to simply hire a few Black people,” said Williamson. “Graduate Black students and send them off to college as a pathway towards equity and inclusion."
News 8 reached out to the San Diego County of Education for comment on this story. They responded with the following statement:
“All students are deserving of a world-class education with high expectations from caring adults who love and support them. And Black students, and children from other vulnerable communities, face large, persistent, and complex achievement gaps within the K-12 education system. This is not because our children have failed; it is because our systems have failed children.
While county offices of education do not have authority over school districts’ equity efforts or discipline practices, we do have the benefit of offering a network of experts and community members whose knowledge and wisdom is critical to serving and teaching our diverse children and honoring their cultures.
At the San Diego County Office of Education, we are focused on providing community-informed and research-based guidance to improve outcomes for historically marginalized students. Our goal is to work with educational leaders to identify the systemic barriers that have resulted in longstanding, pervasive opportunity gaps experienced by marginalized students across San Diego County, and to address the root causes of these barriers.
We are thankful for SDCOE’s African American Advisory group, community partners, and the dedicated students and families who have extended their hands in partnership around a vision of equity. We are committed to ensuring that experiences for all youth, including Black students, are positive at every grade level, in every school.”
News 8 also reached out to The California Department of Education who sent the following statement:
“Superintendent Thurmond is committed to addressing institutional racism and the inequities that have caused disproportionate learning gaps for Black students and other students of color. Calling out the impacts that systemic and institutional racism have had on Black students; State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond formally launched a statewide task force on Improving Black Student Achievement. He is also helping to lead a number of other efforts to improve conditions and outcomes for Black students, including his work to diversify the educator workforce and expanding the male educator pipeline through the use of $350 million in grants for teacher residency programs. The State Superintendent and his CDE team are also leading a $3 billion community schools’ strategy to provide schools with the wraparound supports and services to address root causes and counter trends that have caused Black students to be disproportionately affected in the school-to-prison pipeline. Additionally, the State Superintendent is also overseeing $1.5 billion in professional development grants to promote educator excellence and anti-racism efforts in schools.
Since he took office, State Superintendent Thurmond and the California Department of Education (CDE) have been focused on finding ways to reduce suspensions, especially for students of color. These efforts include a variety of activities to address root causes and systemic responses. Important examples include how CDE continues to encourage educators to be more aware of mental health concerns, which may have an impact on school behavior.
CDE staff continually provide training on discipline-related issues. As an example, you can view a link to a recent training from September 2021 at CDE Supervisor of Attendance Training and review State Guidance for New Laws on Discipline - Letters (CA Dept of Education) as well as Behavioral Intervention Strategies and Supports - School Environment (CA Dept of Education).
During the pandemic, CDE held an entire webinar series to address the disproportionality of disciplinary actions in Early Childhood Education, so this conversation can be started at the earliest ages. To support the field, State Superintendent Thurmond and the CDE are providing grants for reducing chronic absenteeism and restorative justice under the Learning Communities for School Success grant program (Prop 47), which was authorized by AB 1014 – a bill he authored in the legislature and is now overseeing its implementation. At this time, five cohorts of grantees have been funded, totaling 115 grants and distributing over $120 million in funding.
Superintendent Thurmond knows that more work is needed and will continue to focus on remedying the disparities that exist as well as addressing the inequities exacerbated by the pandemic.”
Longfellow Spanish Immersion Magnet School also provided a statement from their principal to parents addressing Wednesday’s press conference.
“I am writing to share the fact there was a small press event outside our school this morning, raising questions about equity in public education.
Here at Longfellow, we are committed to fostering a culture of respect, tolerance, and support for all students, teachers, and staff.
I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight some of the initiatives our school community has embraced to support students, including work with the Innocent Classroom Project. For example, our Middle School is engaged in a book study related to dismantling racial bias to support students of color. I was trained by the Innocent Classroom Project before joining Longfellow, during my tenure at Esperanza Middle School where we all but eliminated school suspensions.
There is much work to do around equity in education, locally and nationwide. Please join us in discussions around this very important work. If I can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to email me at email@example.com.”
WATCH RELATED: San Diego's top stories for Nov. 17, 2021 at 6 p.m.