The Education Dept.’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reaches an out-of-court settlement with the Lodi Unified School District in Lodi, California to end racially discriminatory discipline policies and stop punishing African-American students more harshly than white students.
OCR found that Lodi’s discipline policy had a disproportionate impact on African-American students and was not necessary to meet the district’s educational goals, thereby violating Title VI. Specifically, the district permitted individual schools to develop and impose different consequences for discipline incidents than permitted by state law.
Schools with higher percentages of African-American students established harsher punishment for discipline and African-American students received disproportionately higher levels of discipline than white students, OCR found.
The department found that African-American students were overrepresented at almost every level of discipline to a statistically significant degree–from referral to in-school-suspension, out-of-school suspension, expulsion, and citation – every year analyzed, including each of the four school-years from 2011 to 2015.
- In 2014-15, African-American students were over five times more likely than white students to receive an out-of-school suspension for willful defiance or disruption.
- In 2013-14, African-American students received almost half of the suspensions for willful defiance or disruption at Bear Creek and McNair High Schools, even though African-American students at those schools made up only 15% of the student population.
- African-American students were 6.84 times more likely than white students to receive an in- or out-of-school suspension for tardiness or truancy in 2014-15, even though suspending students for tardiness or truancy is not permitted by California state law.
OCR also had concerns that Lodi treated African-American students differently and more harshly with respect to imposition of discipline. African-American students were far more likely than white students to be expelled or receive a disciplinary referral.
OCR investigated a complaint filed on behalf of an African-American student alleging that the student was disciplined more harshly than a white student. The white student called the African- American student a racial epithet and said that racial epithets were frequently used by students to refer to African-American students at the high school the student attended.
The facts revealed that the African-American student assaulted the white student the next day but the white student did not fight back.
Although OCR found that the students engaged in different behavior, OCR had concerns that this District High School with a low percentage of African American students used its harsher district-wide Conduct Code to discipline the African-American student and its less harsh school site discipline policy to discipline the white student. OCR also had concerns that Lodi did not follow its own policies to address alleged harassment.
The resolution agreement requires Lodi to:
- Continue to employ a Positive School Climate Coordinator to coordinate implementation of the agreement for the duration of the agreement’s term;
- Consult with experts to identify root causes for the district’s racial disparities in discipline and develop and implement an action plan, approved by OCR;
- Revise its discipline policies and practices and regularly train staff to ensure consistency and nondiscriminatory administration of discipline;
- Adopt student-focused remedies including a system of research-based student supports and interventions, as well as early intervention for at-risk students;
Finally, the district also agreed to issue written guidance and provide training regarding racial harassment, and create a plan to prevent racial harassment for the school at issue in the case.