SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Sacramento City Unified School District is required to make changes to ensure all students have access to an education.
The changes include reducing the disproportionate discipline rate of students with disabilities, especially Black children. It’s all part of a settlement in a discrimination lawsuit between the district, students and a Black-led organization.
Three students, along with a community organization named the Black Parallel School Board, filed the lawsuit against the district in Sept. 2019.
They accused the district of segregating students with disabilities — particularly Black students —from their peers without disabilities. They also claimed students with disabilities were placed in separate classrooms or schools, and that those students faced “excessive and exclusionary discipline” for behavior caused by their disabilities.
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“We experienced the excessive discipline,” said LaRayvian Barnes.
She has a son with autism in the school district and says her family struggled for years to find a supportive learning environment, but now that’s changed.
“Our kids can be educated with their peers in general education and not segregated and separated,” said Barnes.
The district reached a settlement with the students and the Black Parallel School Board, Friday.
“It seeks action on reducing the disproportionate discipline,” said Mona Tawatao, the legal director for the Equal Justice Society.
The settlement requires “an independent monitor” to review existing data on the district’s special education and school discipline practices. An action plan must be implemented to ensure all students have equal access to a quality education.
“It focuses on reducing segregation, education of students with disabilities away from their classmates. The Americans with Disabilities Act says you're not supposed to do that,” said Tawatao.
The Sacramento City Unified School District released the following statement:
"The Sacramento City Unified School District announced Monday an agreement to foster greater accountability and improve Special Education services and school disciplinary practices for all students, particularly those with disabilities.
The agreement settles a lawsuit brought by Black Parallel School Board (BPSB) in 2019 alleging segregation of special education students and other exclusionary practices, which disproportionately impacted Black/African-American students. At the time the lawsuit was brought, the SCUSD Board of Education determined that the shared interest in serving and improving the educational experience of students with disabilities and specifically Black students with disabilities justified immediately seeking to cooperate with BPSB and its attorneys to reach a productive settlement.
“This is an important day for the future of Sac City Unified and our commitment to meeting the social, emotional and academic needs of all students, and uniquely so, our Black/ African-American students with disabilities. We are proud of the work the District has already done to be more inclusive and less punitive and we look forward to partnering with Black Parallel School Board to produce better student outcomes moving forward,” said SCUSD Superintendent Jorge A. Aguilar.
The agreement with BPSB calls for the appointment of an independent monitor to create an action plan to drive the implementation of policy, procedure, and data practices, with the intended direct benefit to special education students of the District, and in particular Black students with disabilities – although the improvements resulting from the action plan will undoubtedly benefit all SCUSD students.
“The independent monitor will help us better identify areas for improvement within the system and correct the implicit bias and exclusionary discipline that can disproportionately and negatively impact students with disabilities,” said Aguilar.
“The settlement announced today represents a step forward in our district’s quest to increase equity while improving outcomes for all students, particularly our students with disabilities,” said SCUSD Board President Chinua Rhodes. “Our students benefit from community partnerships that reinforce district-wide accountability for progress toward shared goals. We appreciate the Black Parallel School Board’s deep concern for Sac City Unified students and the collaboration that led to this agreement.”
In addition to the large-scale action plan resulting from the settlement, there are additional short-term measures that will take place on a quicker timeline, including:
- A Town Hall meeting conducted jointly by the District and BPSB to discuss the settlement and its goals;
- The passage of a Board of Education Resolution on Recognition of the Rights of Students with Disabilities;
- A commitment to specific data review practices; and
- Further implementation of existing de-escalation practices and training.
The District appreciates the collaboration of Black Parallel School Board and its attorneys in working through the settlement process in this case – which took many years, largely due to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The end result is an agreement with the best interest of Sac City Unified students in mind, and especially some of the District’s most vulnerable."
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