Last Updated on September 8, 2022 by BVN
Prince James Story |
On Aug. 16, the Department of Education (DOE), Office of Civil Rights (OCR) released the findings of their compliance review of the Victor Valley Union High School District (VVUHSD).
The OCR investigation began its review of the school district in 2014 and looked at the school disciplinary data through 2019.
Data was collected from several schools in the district: Adelanto, Silverado, and Victor Valley high schools, Hook Junior High School, Cobalt Institute of Math and Science (CIMS), Lakeview Leadership Academy, University Preparatory, and Goodwill Education Center.
After interviews with students, parents, and administrative staff, OCR concluded that VVUHSD did discriminate against African American students in the district.
OCR reached its conclusion based on interviews with school administrators, students, data analysis, and reviewing practices like the CleanSweep program, pre-expulsion contracts, “Home custody” discipline, and more.
Disparities in punishment
The CleanSweep program allows school administrators to issue student citations for disciplinary incidents like loitering, having tobacco on campus, littering, petty theft, graffiti, alcohol, and marijuana.
On Aug.31, the San Bernardino Police Department released a statement declaring the Clean Sweep program has been suspended because the Department of Justice is currently investigating it.
“CleanSWEEP is a disciplinary program designed to address minor offenses in the school setting through non-criminal procedures, with a focus to keep kids in school and out of suspension/expulsion procedures,” according to a press release from the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department.
These citations require students to appear in court, where a judge handles them as infractions.
“The program itself is very bad policy, but it also obviously discriminates against students of color and students with disabilities,” Victor Leung, Director of Education Equity for the ACLU of Southern California. “We’ve seen other programs that criminalize students, but this is one of the most egregious.”
The CleanSweep program was implemented in four schools in the district, Adelanto High School, Hook Junior High School, Victor Valley High School, and Silverado High School.
The District did not use Clean Sweep at Cobalt Institute of Math and Science(CIMS) and the University Preparatory School, which had the lowest African- American student enrollment and among the highest white student enrollments in the District.
Also, African-American students were 3.4 times more likely to be issued citations than white students in the district.
A disparate ranking system
The school district uses a discipline matrix to determine the student’s consequence for breaking a school rule. The matrix breaks consequences into five categories, Level 1, an incident that can be handled by teacher intervention in the classroom, to Level 5, which would result in expulsion.
The OCR found that African-Americans’ offenses were mischaracterized on multiple occasions, and they were given harsher punishments that went against the schools’ discipline matrix.
The OCR analyzed the discipline reports from the 2018-2019 school year, which included close to 18,000 referrals.
The OCR report also mentioned the school district’s inadequate record keeping. “Approximately 1,700 discipline referrals included no information about the type of infraction, more than 5,000 records did not list a disciplinary consequence or intervention, and approximately 1,700 records initially lacked the race of the student.”
Another anomaly specific to this school district is that students were suspended for tardiness and truancy. Which goes against California Education Code 48900, which states, “it is the intent of the Legislature that alternatives to suspension or expulsion be imposed against a pupil who is truant, tardy, or otherwise absent from school activities.”
On multiple occasions, they used an exclusionary discipline tactic called “Home custody” to also punish students who were tardy repeatedly.
One major finding was that some schools in the district were sending students home as punishment, sometimes for multiple days until the end of the semester or year, without officially characterizing the discipline as a suspension.
African-American students represented 20.8% of students in the district but accounted for 37.3% of “home custody removals,” while white students accounted for 5.1% of such removals and 8.0% of enrollment.
Pre-expulsion contracts were another form of discipline that was not listed in the “disciplinary matrix” but was often used as a form of discipline that disproportionately affected African-American students.
Another disparate finding was that African- American students accounted for 50.2% of the pre-expulsion contracts, more than 3.7 times their white counterparts.
The report appears to indicate Victor Valley Union High School District made liberal use of rules put in place to keep students in school which resulted in what appears to be personal bias or unconscious racism against African-American students in school.
Overall, the report highlighted how the district performed poorly compared to other districts in the state relative to the administration of discipline.
According to California Department of Education data, VVUHSD suspended students approximately 60% more than the average high school district in California.
According to the California Department of Education(CDE), the expulsion rate for the district is almost three times the state’s average, and the district expulsion rate for African-American students was about two-and-a-half times the expulsion rate for African-American students statewide.
School to Prison Pipeline in California
“It’s very powerful to show the discrimination against particularly Black students because they are over disciplined the most out of any group,” Leung said. But I want to caution that this goes well beyond Victorville. In school districts across the county and the state, you will find the same kinds of disparities … We hope that the Office of Civil Rights and state agencies … try to improve conditions in other school districts as well because it’s not isolated. This is actually a very good example of what’s going on everywhere.”
In California, African-American students were nine times more likely to be in the juvenile system than their white counterparts, according to data collected in 2019 by the Sentencing Project.
“Forty-one percent of youths in placement are Black, even though Black Americans comprise only 15% of all youth across the United States,” according to the Sentencing Project.
District responds with solutions
“We have to make sure that we’re educating our leaders in our schools. We have to make sure that we have an accountability system in place,” said Elvin Momon, acting Superintendent of the Victor Valley Union High School District in response to the OCR report, “We are bringing in two consultants. One that’s going to really look at that whole discipline matrix. Just in terms of discipline across the district, how that’s been done. We’re making sure that our administrators and secretaries are getting trained in the tracking system, the record-keeping part of it.”
Momon worked in the VVUHSD for 28 years, and he worked as superintendent of the school district for four years before he retired in 2014. He returned to the district in March as a consultant, and when the previous superintendent Ron Williams retired earlier this year, he stepped in as acting superintendent. Although Carl J. Coles was appointed superintendent effective September 1, Momon will stay in his current role until December to help with the transition.
OCR and the VVUHSD agreed to a 13-point plan to fix the current damaged system and remedy the harm done to African-American students.