The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VI, “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
According to documents obtained by San Bernardino American News, on August 12, 2014, the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights opened a compliance review of the Victor Valley Union High School District examining whether the district, through its CleanSWEEP Program and disciplinary practices, discriminated against minority students by disciplining them more frequently and harshly in violation of federal law.
After investigating, the United States (US) Department of Education (ED) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) identified a pattern of unequal disciplinary actions at Victor Valley Union High School District (VVUHSD) across all discipline types, schools, and grade levels causing greater harms – including significant lost learning time – on a majority of Black students compared to White students.
For instance, during the 2018-19 school year (SY), Latino students accounted for 65.2% of the student population, had 54.3% of all discipline referrals, while White students at 8% of the student population, had 5.9% of all referrals for discipline.
Black students represented 20.8% of the student population, yet represented 37.1% of all referrals, almost double their student population.
OCR determined Latino students experienced some discrimination finding it was not significant compared to Black students, instances found are included.
On August 16, VVUHSD voluntarily reached a resolution with ED agreeing to principles for a safe and nondiscriminatory school environment and to implement actions required by the resolution agreement.
San Bernardino County Sheriff CleanSWEEP Program
OCR found VVUHSD implemented a juvenile citation program operated by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department known as CleanSWEEP (Success with Education/Enforcement Partnership).
CleanSWEEP is the only juvenile citation program in the country empowering school administrators to write citations for students who break the law on campus according to the US Department of Justice (DOJ).
Under the CleanSWEEP program, school administrators issued citations to students, aged ten through seventeen, for incidents involving loitering, tobacco, littering, keeping lost property, petty theft, graffiti, alcohol, and marijuana.
These citations (infractions) required students to appear in court where a judge can impose a variety of punishments.
On August 31, San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus suspended the CleanSWEEP Program, a program implemented in about 100 school campuses county-wide, due to an investigation by the California DOJ according to a press release.
Discrimination found in CleanSWEEP program
VVUHSD informed OCR it used CleanSWEEP at four schools: Adelanto, Hook, Silverado, but not at Cobalt Institute of Math and Science (CIMS) and University Preparatory, attended by mostly White students.
VVUHSD employees confirmed their belief it’s use of CleanSWEEP discriminated against Black students in SY 2018-19, based on direct knowledge of VVUHSD’s discipline data and CleanSWEEP. OCR found VVUHSD were 3.4 times more likely to issue citations to Black students than White students.
OCR found district leadership expressed concerns in a memo about CleanSWEEP’s effect on students explaining communities impacted by the program “are already facing debilitating levels of poverty,” citing the harm of issuing citations to students describing CleanSWEEP’s actions as “unconscionable” recommending VVUHSD discontinue the program.
OCR found particularly noteworthy the overrepresentation of Black students in CleanSWEEP citations.
During SY 2018-19, 73 students were expelled, including 39 Black students (53.4%), at a rate of 2.57 times their percentage of enrollment (20.8%). VVUHSD’s records indicate at least five Black students, expelled previously, were placed on pre-expulsion contracts.
An administrator explained pre-expulsion contracts were not in VVUHSD’s written Disciplinary Policy, where VVUHSD required students facing discipline to sign a pre-expulsion contract, agreeing future misbehavior could lead to expulsion without due process.
OCR found Black students received pre-expulsion contracts, violating state law and VVUHSD policies, at a rate 3.7 times greater than White students.
An administrator reported before SY 2019-20, VVUHSD expelled students for infractions where an administrator would simply check the box that findings were made after a hearing, despite having no hearing, in violation of Education Code.
Disenrollment to Improve Graduation Rates
OCR cited VVUHSD’s disciplinary records, and a VVUHSD employee reporting to improve the school’s graduation rates, at the end of each school year, an assistant principal counseled Black and Latino students with discipline, attendance, and/or academic problems encouraging them to leave the school, and enroll in alternative programs.
Another administrator told OCR some schools disenrolled students who were 18 years and older involved in a discipline incident, labeling them as truants who could not be found. Allegations corroborated by OCR.
OCR found Black students accounted for 40.8% while White students accounted for 6.7% of all students suspended. Overall, Black students were 2.3 times more likely than White students to be suspended one or more times.
For incidents of fighting during SY 2018-19, 62 Black students received an average suspension of 2.6 days, compared to 9 White students averaging 2.3 days.
OCR identified two district schools suspended Black students by mischaracterizing their defiant or disruptive behavior as intentionally engaging in harassment, threats, or intimidation, directed against school district personnel or pupils.
One suspension involved a Black student who refused to hand over his phone to a teacher or administrator, and where Black student left campus before school, returning during second period.
The data showed VVUHSD was more likely to impose harsher discipline on Black students for first-time referrals of subjective infractions than White students for the same types of infractions.
Black students accounted for 42.9% of all referrals resulting in exclusionary discipline or other severe consequences, double their percentage (20.8%) of student population.
Of all Black students in VVUHSD who received a first-time referral, 14.6% received a severe consequence compared to only 9.4% of White students.
OCR found Adelanto had a practice of placing some students on “home custody.” Four incidents of “home custody” in VVUHSD’s records described the consequence “in lieu of suspension,” and two of the 13 incidents were also listed as suspensions in VVUHSD’s data. “Home Custody,” not referenced in VVUHSD’s Disciplinary Policy, was the consequence for 13 students in SY 2018-19, 5 were Black (39%), and 8 Latino students (62%).
OCR identified other harsher treatment for Black students who engaged in “inappropriate behavior,” “defiance” or “disruption” and were removed from instruction, which contrasted with numerous examples of White students not removed for similar offenses.
OCR found Black students (27.1%) were almost twice as likely as White students (15.1%) to receive a suspension or a behavior contract after a second referral for inappropriate behavior.
For instance, a ninth-grade Black student continued eating a bag of chips in class after the teacher asked him to stop, the student put the chips away, then took them out again, dumping them into his mouth, after the teacher told him to go to the office. He received a one-day class suspension, compared to two white students who received counseling.
Dress code violations
An administrator described to OCR a teacher referring a Black student for sexual harassment for not wearing a belt and wearing saggy pants. Sexual harassment, is a Level 3 or 4 infraction under VVUHSD Disciplinary Policy, a student can be suspended.
OCR identified a Black student suspended for one day for wearing his pants low, while a White student received five days lunch detention for the same, plus his second discipline referral, using an obscenity, and leaving, refusing to return to the administrative office.
California law says students who are truant, or tardy, should be subject to alternative discipline other than suspension/expulsion and lists specific infractions for which suspension/expulsion is permitted.
In violation of California law, VVUHSD’s Disciplinary Policy allowed suspensions for repeated tardiness, cutting class, and excessive absences/truancy.
An administrator recalled a Black student with a disability referred to the School Attendance Review Board for being tardy reportedly due to medications that he took, making it difficult to arrive on time at school.
OCR found VVUHSD used suspensions/OCIs to address students who were late or missed instruction at least 692 times in SY 2018-19, disproportionately harming Black students. In some cases, these schools repeatedly mischaracterized tardy/truant behavior as harassment or threats, and suspended students.
OCR requested any evidence VVUHSD had these removals were effective in addressing tardiness/truancy. VVUHSD was unable to provide such evidence.
Use of Pepper-Spray
With respect to campus security, an administrator believed security officers used force and pepper spray disproportionately with Black students compared to other students.
The administrator stated the school’s principal acknowledged that they used pepper spray too often. OCR learned VVUHSD does not track the use of pepper spray.
OCR Investigation Findings
In its investigation, OCR interviewed 17 VVUHSD school administrators and approximately 30 school employees about their knowledge of VVUHSD’s discipline policies, practices, and data.
OCR applied legal standards to the facts finding VVUHSD engaged in discriminatory treatment of Black students in its administration of discipline, in violation of Title VI and its implementing regulations at 34 C.F.R. §§ 100.3(a) and 100.3(b)(1)(i), (ii), (iv), and (vi).
OCR found VVUHSD was aware of the disproportionate/harmful impact of its disciplinary practices on Black students over multiple years, finding these harms foreseeable.
Underlying causes of discriminatory practices
Through their interviews, OCR explored why VVUHSD’s discipline rates were higher for Black students. After interviewing district employees, OCR concluded the responses from these and other school employees reflected racialized generalizations and negative stereotypes about the behavior of Black students.
For example, one principal explained Black students are disciplined more because they are “loud” and it is their “culture.” Another administrator reported to OCR that school administrators had less “patience” with Black students when disciplining them.
To address the violations OCR found, to remedy the harms to affected Black students, and ensure non-discrimination in student discipline, VVUHSD entered into a resolution agreement, committing to implementing 13 actions including, examining/correcting the cause of the discrimination in its student discipline, retaining an expert director and consultant in nondiscriminatory discipline practices, establish a stakeholder equity committee to oversee the implementation of the agreement, revise its discipline policies/procedures, ensure accurate/complete student discipline record-keeping and reporting, regularly analyze discipline data to identify/address discrimination, inform/train staff on prohibited discipline practices and new policies/procedures, conduct student/parent information on student discipline policies, publicly report discipline data, revise policies/procedures/training, and Memoranda of Understanding with law enforcement agencies, conduct school climate surveys to measure fairness/safety in VVUHSD, and provide restorative education to students victimized by discriminatory policies/practices.