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Stockton schools reach settlement with state over discrimination allegations

Sacramento Bee - 1/24/2019

Jan. 24--Stockton Unified School District and its police department reached a settlement this week with the California Department of Justice over allegations that the district discriminated against students of color and students with disabilities.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and district Superintendent John E. Deasy at a press conference Tuesday announced the agreement addressing system-wide violations of the students' civil and constitutional rights.

The settlement seeks to reduce arrests for minor misbehavior by students, such as disrupting class.

"One of the most critical tasks of the California Department of Justice is to protect the rights of our children to be free from mistreatment, especially in our schools," said Becerra.

A five-year investigation by the state found that black and Latino students were more likely to be punished on campus or taken into custody than other students in the district. The investigation also concluded that the district and police used unconstitutional search and seizure practices.

There are about 40,000 students in Stockton's school district, which is the 17th largest in the state, according to the California Department of Education.

The district reported about 2,000 student arrests from mid-2012 to the end of 2016, and 344 students were arrested multiple times., according to the ACLU.

About 63 percent of students in the district are Hispanic, and they make up 50 percent of arrests, according to the ACLU.

Nearly 11 percent of students are black, but they make up more than 30 percent of arrests.

The DOJ and district agreed to distinguish between disciplinary infractions handled by school officials and major threats to the school, according to court documents. Rather than notify the police, the school will discipline for actions that include: defiance, trespassing, verbal altercations, small fights that do not result in injuries, possession of alcohol and tobacco, and theft less than $500.

The police department will modify its use of force policy, and will consider alternatives to force, according to court documents. Officers will receive training on a range of topics including bias free policing, cultural competence, and interacting with specific student groups including students with disabilities and English language learners. One-quarter of the district' students are English language learners.

Campus monitors and school staff will be trained in de-escalation techniques to prevent behavior that leads to physically restraining a child. School administration will receive training on implicit bias and students' civil rights.

The Justice Department and the district agreed to cooperate on a five-year reform plan for policies and procedures, including: how and when school administrators refer students to law enforcement, hiring a trained disability coordinator at the police department to ensure compliance with disability discrimination laws, and training officers on mental health crisis intervention.

Stockton Unified spokeswoman Shelley Spessary said in a statement: "The district is clear about its mission; lifting youth out of poverty and ensuring all students have access to rigorous, high-quality instruction in a safe and equitable learning environment."

The agreement comes less than a year after Modesto City Schools reached a settlement with students, parents and advocacy groups who threatened to file a federal lawsuit over the district's policies affecting minority students.

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(c)2019 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

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