September 28 2017

Across the country, Black and Latino students disproportionately experience high-levels of school discipline. The high rates of disciplinary action levied on students of color often result in far too many missed school days, poor academic performance, and opportunities to engage in mischief while at home or on the streets.

Unfortunately, the trend is no different in Kern – In fact in 2009, Kern High School District (KHSD) had one of the highest rates of school suspensions of any district in the state. More alarming than that, KHSD expelled Latino students at a rate 350 percent higher than white students, and Black students were expelled at rates almost 600 percent higher than their white counter-parts.

Our youth should be in the classroom or an academic setting every day. Instead, many students are sitting at home serving out sentences for minor school-related incidents. This isn’t the reality we want in Kern.

But this history of troubling treatment of Black and Brown students was magnified in 2015 when Tyson Reed was taken to the ground by a Kern High School District police officer and tasered twice – Because he was tardy to class.

Then the district, as reported in the Bakersfield Californian, was “resolute in defending itself,” for those egregious actions .

In 2014, with the support of organizations like the Dolores Huerta Foundation, our communities were resolute in standing up for the human rights and dignity of our Black and Brown students. We had had enough. From day one, our goal was to protect our students from policies that make the school-to-prison pipeline a reality for so many families – right here in Kern.

Our historic victory is marked here in The Bakersfield Californian.

Thankfully, after more than three years of litigation, this July Kern High School District agreed to a settlement that will strengthen training programs related to disciplinary practices in KHSD schools. It’s our sincere hope that this settlement will be embraced as a step forward for racial equity and equality at KHSD.  KHSD has agreed to:

  • Hire two Positive Behavior Incentive Systems (PBIS) experts to train district staff;
  • Require every staff member be trained in PBIS over several years;
  • Hold twice-per-year community forums reporting on school climate and discipline data, broken down by race;
  • End school suspensions and expulsions for defiance;
  • And recognize Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month.

“This victory is a remarkable example of people power at work. Our community is fired up about the success and fair treatment of our young people,” said Gerald Cantu, Education Policy Director at the Dolores Huerta Foundation. “KHSD has made the first step in making sure all Kern students are treated equitably and have a shot at better educational outcomes.”

The heroism, bravery, and determination of Kern community members, parents, and youth leaders has turned a page in local civil rights – Hopefully ending decades of harmful practices. While this is a major win for Kern families, we must continue to harness our collective power to hold our partners at KHSD accountable – for the sake of our children and theirs to come.

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