It’s been one year since the Kern High School District (KHSD) settled a historic lawsuit that showed KHSD disproportionately expelled and suspended African-American and Latino students over the years.
Back in 2009, Latino students were expelled 350 percent higher than white students, and African-American students almost 600 percent higher than their white peers.
As a result of the settlement, KHSD agreed to implement major policy changes, including the implementation of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) in all 18 comprehensive high schools to address how the district disciplines students of color. The settlement was the first of its kind in California and showed the true power of students, community organizers and other stakeholders.
I am hopeful that “people power” will be on display once again as KHSD prepares to present a community forum 7 p.m. Thursday at West High School. In accordance to the terms of the settlement, KHSD is mandated to hold community forums twice a year to update the public about its progress of implementing policies and practices that improve student behavior and create a positive school climate. At these forums, administrators must present data related to suspensions, involuntary and voluntary transfers, expulsions, discipline and referral data disaggregated by race, ethnicity and gender, and receive feedback from the community, which is the most important part of the forum.
This settlement will go a long way to help put an end to KHSD’s discriminatory discipline practices that target African-American and Latino students. It is also a great step forward in advancing racial equity in our schools and dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. But the settlement must continue to be powered by the people—families, students and the entire community.
However, there is no quick fix in discipline reform. One example is the multi-tiered program PBIS that began with a seven-year implementation timeline during the 2014-15 school year at KHSD. Now it is up to the community to make sure KHSD is providing the support and resources for teachers and staff to fully implement PBIS to support students to achieve social, emotional and academic success.
It is time to hold KHSD accountable. The culture at KHSD must transform so that all students have opportunities for academic success. This high school district has operated improperly for so long, that it has become a norm that one settlement can’t fix overnight. Yes, the trustees who are responsible for educating and taking care of our students are now forced to continue to follow through on policies and programs that will improve how the district treats students of color, but we must demand a change in district and school the school culture. The lawsuit can change the policies and practices, but it cannot change mindsets or culture.
We must demand a sweeping institutional change in how this district does business on behalf of all families, students of color, LGBTQ students and foster students.
The lawsuit is just one of the many examples of responsibility of all stakeholders to ensure we are keeping our promise to democracy to hold the school districts accountable. But most importantly, to ensure that all students at KHSD are valued, represented and treated equally and fairly.
We welcome all parents, teachers, students and community members to become engaged in the process of implementation of discipline reform at KHSD. Join us at the community forum at 7:00 p.m. Thursday at West High School auditorium located at 1200 New Stine Road in Bakersfield.’
Cecilia Castro is the Education and Policy Director for the Dolores Huerta Foundation and a member of the Kern Education Justice Collaborative. She can be reached at email@example.com.