Though the Kern High School District has seen improvements in student expulsion and suspension rates the past few years, local activists say not enough is being done.
So they are taking to the streets, along with parents and students, Thursday before the start of a KHSD community forum to demand transparency in progress reports and to implement the agreements of a settlement meant to create a positive school environment and improve social, emotional and academic outcomes for black and Latino students.
The district is required to hold two community forums each school year as part of a $670,000 lawsuit settlement against the district. The lawsuit, filed in 2015 by 20 plaintiffs, alleged that the district expelled and suspended black and Latino students at a disproportionate rate compared to other students.
This is the sixth and final forum KHSD is required to hold. District officials will present data from the last two full school years and fall 2019.
The march will begin at 5:30 p.m. in front of the Ross store at 3761 Ming Ave. and will end at West High School, where the forum is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Speakers at the march will include parents, students and teachers.
Activists recognize overall suspension and expulsion numbers have gone down, but disproportionality still exists, said Cecilia Castro, education director for the Dolores Huerta Foundation.
"The rates for black students to be suspended are two to three times more than their white peers," Castro said.
According to 2019 data from California School Dashboard, 18.2 percent of African American students, 8.1 percent of Hispanic students and 7.8 percent of white students were suspended at least once.
The total number of expulsions decreased from 29 in 2017-2018 to 20 last year, according to data provided by the district at the last community forum. However, out of those 20, seven were African American students, 11 were Hispanic, one was white and one was other.
Castro also noted the district has not completely achieved its goal of hiring a diverse workforce. For this school year, the ethnic makeup of new hires is 68.2 percent white, 29.4 percent Hispanic or Latino and 2.3 percent black, according to district data presented at a board meeting.
Though the district could not be reached for comment Tuesday, Brenda Lewis, KHSD associate superintendent of instruction, said in a news release, “We are very proud of the programs and services that the Kern High School District provides for our students, staff, and parents. We are also thankful for the support and collaboration from our various community partners.
"As we approach our sixth community forum, we are appreciative of the continuous opportunity to share information with members of the Bakersfield community about the programs and services that support our students academically, socially, emotionally, and behaviorally. These programs and services support the KHSD’s mission, which is to graduate students prepared to succeed in their future endeavors.”
Castro is hoping the march sends a message to the district that community members care about fair practices across the board. Even though this is the last required community forum, she also hopes there will be more in the future.
"There’s a lot of parents, students and educators that care about making the district better," Castro said. "Having so many people engaged and wanting to know the data and keeping track of how (the district is) doing, hopefully the district will continue (these forums)."