Feds settle with Victor Valley Union High School District over discrimination

Victor Valley Union High School District headquarters.

Victor Valley Union High School District has entered into a resolution agreement to end race discrimination in the implementation of school discipline, the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights said this week.

The Office for Civil Rights determined that VVUHSD was discriminated based on race in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by disciplining Black students more frequently and more harshly than white students. The Office for Civil Rights opened the investigation into VVUSD in 2014.

The voluntary resolution agreement requires the district to revise its discipline policies and procedures, train its staff regarding them, and develop and implement a corrective action plan to ensure nondiscrimination in student discipline.

“I applaud the Victor Valley Union High School District’s commitment today to rectify the harms its discipline practices caused to Black students and to ensure nondiscrimination in school discipline going forward,” Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon said in a press release Tuesday.

In a VVUHSD statement to the Daily Press, officials said the school district is committed to providing the best possible educational outcomes for all students.

There are 12 schools in the district, including Victor Valley High School, Silverado High School, Adelanto High School, University Preparatory and Options for Youth-Victorville Charter.

“We would like to thank the Office of Civil Rights for raising important issues and for working with us to find solutions to these systemic problems,” the district stated. “Even before the conclusion of the OCR analysis, the district began taking steps to increase equity for our students.”

Some of the measures included revising the district’s disciplinary policies, employing a student services director to focus on improving equity, establishing an equity task force, improving analysis of student discipline data and conducting school climate surveys.

“We expect to see marked improvement in the discipline data for our students of color, particularly African-American students,” district officials said.

The OCR identified a pattern of disparate actions across types of discipline, schools and grade levels that imposed greater harm – including a significant loss of learning time – on Black students than their white peers.

District discipline practices that disproportionately harmed Black students departed from district policies and state law, the OCR stated.

Throughout OCR’s investigation, administrators, teachers, and student witnesses reported discrimination in multiple areas such as suspensions, expulsions, truancy and the issuance of law enforcement citations.

This reported discrimination was consistent with statistical evidence of racial disparities in student discipline as well as with district records reflecting specific instances of the harsher discipline of Black students as compared to white students who engaged in similar behavior.

OCR also found that the district violated some Civil Rights Act regulations by failing to maintain and produce timely, complete and accurate records regarding school discipline to demonstrate its compliance with the act.

Administrator and employee witnesses provided examples to the OCR of discrimination at various schools, including racial bias in the discipline process, racial generalizations and negative racial stereotypes about African American students and families.

Students also reported that the district treated African American students differently in discipline than students of other races. One example was Black students were disciplined more often and more harshly for dress code violations and being louder than white students.

Another example is school administrators issued law enforcement citations to students through the CleanSWEEP program, where students were required to appear in juvenile court.

In a review of discipline files, OCR found individual examples of similarly situated African American and white students with the same or similar discipline history who were disciplined differently for the same or similar infractions, including dress code violations, subjective offenses like “defiance,” “ disruption,” and “inappropriate behavior,” and objective offenses like truancy.

The agreement

The agreement also requires the VVUHSD to offer and provide compensatory education for students harmed by its racially discriminatory discipline practices.

The district has already begun taking steps to implement the agreement. The district’s commitments in the resolution agreement include:

  • Examining the causes of racial disparities in the district’s discipline and implementing a corresponding corrective action plan.

  • Employing a director with expertise in nondiscriminatory discipline practices to help the district implement the corrective action plan and the agreement.

  • Establishing a stakeholder equity committee to inform the implementation of the plan.

  • Revising its discipline policies and procedures, including regarding law enforcement involvement in school discipline.

  • Regularly analyzing its student discipline data to identify and, as needed, address possible areas of discrimination.

  • Providing training to staff on the revised discipline policies and practices.

  • Publicly reporting disaggregated discipline data.

  • Conducting school climate surveys to assess perceptions of fairness and safety.

  • Providing compensatory education to students subjected to discriminatory practices.

Daily Press reporter Rene Ray De La Cruz may be reached at 760-951-6227 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @DP_ReneDeLaCruz

This article originally appeared on Victorville Daily Press: Feds reach settlement with Victor Valley HS District over race issues