On October 9, 2015, African-American and Latino students and parents, a Kern County taxpayer, and the Dolores Huerta Foundation (DHF, a non-profit membership organization promoting academic success for all students) filed this lawsuit in the California Superior Court of Kern County. The plaintiffs brought this action against Kern High School District (KHSD), Kern County Office of Education (KCOE), the California Department of Education (CDE), and State Superintendent Tom Torlakson to end discriminatory expulsions and transfer practices in KHSD.
Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that KHSD, historically an intentionally segregated school district, continues to discriminate students of color. Eighty percent of the school in the District are racially over-represented. For example, seven schools in KHSD have an enrollment of over 50% White students, although the overall enrollment in the District is predominantly non-White (with 6% African-American students and 62% Latino students). Over 2010-2015, a disproportionately high number of Latino and African-American students in KHSD were suspended, expelled, and involuntarily transferred or assigned to alternative schools in KHSD (where students are reported to achieve less academic success).
Plaintiffs claimed that KHSD's discriminatory policy was to blame for the racially and ethnically disproportionate expulsion, suspension, and transfer decisions in KHSD. Prior to bringing suit, DHF had met with KHSD to express concerns about the discriminatory expulsions and transfers and suggested changes to the school district's Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) regarding its discipline policies, which were allegedly ignored by the defendants.
Plaintiffs first claimed that the discriminatory suspensions and transfers violated the equal protection and educational rights of the students guaranteed by the California and United States Constitution. Second, the plaintiffs claimed that the defendants violated and federal and state laws that impose affirmative obligation to prevent discriminatory policies and practices on entities that receive federal or state funding (Cal. Gov't Code, §11135, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Cal. Code Civ. Proc. §§ 526a, 1085).
On December 4, 2015, the court dismissed the State of California as a defendant from the lawsuit. The court held that no valid cause of action has been stated against the State of California, as opposed to one or more of its agencies. Specifically, the court held that the plaintiffs failed to state facts sufficient to constitute a Due Process rights violation, because the sections of the Education Code that the plaintiffs claimed to be unconstitutionally vague was not overbroad as a matter of law.
On March 2016, the plaintiffs appealed this decision to the Fifth District Court of Appeals, as they believed the State of California has the independent and ultimate responsibility for District oversight and ensuring quality and equitable education for all California students. See EJS Press Release
On May 24, 2016, Judge Chapin of Kern County issued an order denying the KHSD’s attempt to dismiss the case in its entirety and allowed the majority of claims in the lawsuit to go forward against the district, including the suit against its Board of Trustees and Superintendent Bryon Schaefer. See EJS Press Release
. In the same order, Judge Chapin stopped the plaintiffs from proceeding with their case against the remaining three defendants until there was a ruling on the state appeal. The plaintiffs motioned to lift the stay, reasoning that the appeal could proceed without prejudicing the other defendants, but Judge Chapin denied the motion.
On July 26, 2016, the plaintiffs withdrew their appeal and decided to proceed with the lawsuit against the remaining defendants, considering the interests of the ongoing harm done to the students and organizational members.
The lawsuit is ongoing as of August 2016.Soojin Cha - 10/17/2016