Modesto, CA—Friday, a coalition of Modesto parents and students, the Modesto-based civil rights organization Advocates for Justice, and the Modesto-Stanislaus Branch of the NAACP—represented by California Rural Legal Assistance Inc. (CRLA), Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP—reached an agreement with the Modesto City Schools, its Superintendent, and its School Board (MCS), addressing claims that discipline and transfer policies at MCS have kept African American, Latino, and English Learner students out of instructional classrooms and resulted in the placement of students of color into alternative programs that provide fewer educational opportunities.
Modesto City Schools is located in California’s Central Valley and has a diverse student population that includes a significant number of Latino, African American, and English Learner students. However, the coalition of Modesto community members was troubled by data showing that Latino, African American, and English Learner students were suspended, expelled, and referred to intervention classrooms and alternative schools at much higher rates than the general school population, and at higher rates than the state average. “This loss of instruction time, and transfer to schools that offered fewer classes and opportunities for students of color, was just not acceptable,” said Jacq Wilson, vice-president of Advocates for Justice.
Last December, the coalition of community members advised MCS that they were prepared to file a complaint in federal court on behalf of students who have suffered the devastating consequences of discriminatory discipline and school assignment policies. MCS agreed to work with the claimants to resolve the claims without litigation, and the parties participated in a first of its kind mediation conducted by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Building on that start, the parties have worked diligently over the last five months to reach a mutual resolution that benefits all community stakeholders, culminating in the approval of this Agreement by the MCS Board on May 18, 2018.
Under the Agreement, which runs through June 30, 2021, Dr. Jason Okonofua—a nationally recognized expert on race and discipline in schools—will review MCS policies, survey staff and students, and make recommendations to the district on improving their policies in order to create a more inclusive and successful MCS. Dr. Okonofua will provide regular reports on his work, and the community will be invited to participate in a Community Engagement Forum, held twice each school year, where parents and students can hear about what Dr. Okonofua has found and what policy changes and training will be implemented.
Although recent changes have resulted in a reduction of “in-school” suspensions at MCS, the claimants were concerned that this reduction was accompanied by an increase in referrals to “intervention classrooms.” “Parents and students have been concerned that these were not true behavioral interventions; that African-American, Latino and English Learner students have been removed from their classrooms and taxpayer money is being used to have them sit in classes where no teaching is done,” said Staci Crosby, mother of a MSC high school student. “I am relieved to know that this is an area that will be reviewed by Dr. Okonofua.”
“As is our practice, we offered the district an opportunity to resolve these issues without litigation, happily they agreed to do so, and we look forward to working with Dr. Okonofua and district staff under the terms of the settlement agreement to bring about meaningful change in the MCS,” said Jessica Jewell, CRLA. “We are particularly grateful to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing for the assistance they provided under their mediation program,” said stated Cynthia L. Rice, CRLA.
Gladys Williams, President of the Modesto-Stanislaus Branch of the NAACP, also welcomed the Agreement: “We hope that this settlement results in real change that keeps children in school, ensures equitable treatment, and offers them a meaningful chance to succeed in life.”
“Very few school districts in this state have devoted resources to address the issue of race and ethnic disproportionality in the context of school discipline. I am extremely pleased that MCS has agreed to bring in an Expert with that knowledge. This settlement is an important step in improving the school climate at MCS so that all students can have access to the educational opportunities they need to thrive,” said Deborah Escobedo from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Gibson Dunn partner Benjamin Wagner agreed. “We are pleased that the Modesto School District chose to address these important issues in a collaborative manner, rather than through litigation,” Wagner said. “It has been a pleasure working with our co-counsel at CRLA and LCCR on this matter, and we hope this agreement will result in lasting and positive change for Modesto students.”
A copy of the Agreement can be found here: CLICK TO DOWNLOAD
Cynthia L. Rice
Director of Litigation, Advocacy & Training
California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc.
Tel. (510) 267-0762 x323, CRICE@CRLA.ORG
Attorney, Racial Justice-Education
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights
San Francisco Bay Area
Tel. (415) 543-9444 x201, DESCOBEDO@LCCR.COM
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP
Tel. (650) 849-5395, BWAGNER@GIBSONDUNN.COM
California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA)
Founded in 1966, CRLA’s mission is to fight for justice and individual rights alongside the most exploited communities of our society. Through a network of regional offices and cross-cutting programs, CRLA provides legal services to nearly 50,000,000 low-income people annually. Our work impacts farmworkers, individuals with disabilities, immigrant populations, LGBT communities, women, children and families in rural areas.
For more information on CRLA, please visit: CRLA.ORG
LAWYERS’ COMMITTEE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, founded in 1968, works to advance, protect and promote the legal rights of communities of color, low-income persons, immigrants, and refugees. Assisted by hundreds of pro bono attorneys, LCCR provides free legal assistance and representation to individuals on civil legal matters through direct services, impact litigation and policy advocacy.
For more information on LCCR, please visit: LCCR.COM
GIBSON, DUNN & CRUTCHER LLP
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP is a leading international law firm. Consistently ranking among the world’s top law firms in industry surveys and major publications, Gibson Dunn is distinctively positioned in today’s global marketplace with more than 1,200 lawyers and 20 offices, including Beijing, Brussels, Century City, Dallas, Denver, Dubai, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Munich, New York, Orange County, Palo Alto, Paris, San Francisco, São Paulo, Singapore, and Washington, D.C.
For more information on Gibson Dunn, please visit: GIBSONDUNN.COM