California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced Wednesday that the California Department of Justice has entered into a settlement with the Mojave Unified School District to address shortfalls in the district's policies and practices, including those relating to complaints of discrimination and retaliation.
According to redacted reports, in May 2019 the Attorney General’s office, with assistance from the California Department of Education, began an investigation to determine whether the district’s policies and practices had subjected a student and his family and others similarly situated to denial of educational opportunity, benefit or access on account of advocacy for rights under state law and/or based on national origin, ethnicity, or immigration status.
Upon conclusion of the investigation in January 2020, the Attorney General’s office found the district failed to investigate a report that a principal threatened immigration consequences against the employer of a student's parents in retaliation for advocacy efforts to address a complaint of discriminatory treatment against the student.
The investigation also identified deficiencies under state law in the district’s independent study and supervised suspension programs, search and seizure practices, special education evaluation and alternative placement in County Community Day School processes, and student record confidentiality training and protocols.
“The California Constitution guarantees each and every child the fundamental right to a public education,” said Becerra. “That right must be more than just words on a piece of paper. Today’s agreement is about making the promise of our laws a reality for our students — no matter where they or their parents come from."
As part of the settlement, the district will work on a four-year plan to: improve procedures for handling student complaints, including ensuring that staff understand obligations under the law to adequately respond to and track reports of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation; ensure alternative education programs meet legal requirements, following findings that the district provided only 10 to 15 minutes of support per week to below-grade-level students in independent study; train staff in records management; address potentially inappropriate transfers to county community day schools, which, if not for expulsion, generally may only occur with the voluntary and informed consent of the student and family; increase the accessibility of special education evaluations; reform practices on searches and seizures; notify families of the availability of translation and interpretation services; conduct a quarterly community advisory survey; and remedy grievances suffered by an individual student.
“It is unfortunate to learn that a student and his family have been wrongfully affected by a public institution’s failure to ensure non-discriminatory practices and complaints policies were adhered to," said Mojave Unified School District Superintendent Katherine Aguirre. "As the new superintendent of Mojave Unified School District and lifelong advocate for equity and inclusion, I am committed to working with the Department of Justice in addressing and leading the district to remedy the deficiencies identified by the DOJ.”
Though the decision affects the Mojave Unified School District, Becerra said this helps create a roadmap for similarly situated districts across the state.