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Discrimination lawsuit against Sacramento City Unified schools may end up in settlement

Sacramento Bee - 1/4/2020

Jan. 4--Months after advocacy groups sued the Sacramento City Unified School District for discrimination against students with disabilities and black students, the district and the plaintiffs may seek a settlement.

The news comes after a federal court granted the mutual request in December for a seven-month stay of the litigation for the class-action lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed in September by the Black Parallel School Board on behalf of three students, says the district segregates, denies students with disabilities, and specifically black students with disabilities, the right to an education side-by-side with their peers, and disciplines them more frequently.

While the district does not agree with the allegations in the lawsuit, "We appreciate plaintiffs' willingness to work with us," said Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Jorge Aguilar.

"The District believes that we should work cooperatively with the plaintiffs to identify potential policies and practices that may not serve the best interests of the district's students with disabilities, and to jointly find solutions to those issues, which would include addressing factors which limit service options or strategies for serving District students," Aguilar said.

During the stay, the district offered and agreed to make changes to benefit students with disabilities, according to a joint press release from the district, Disability Rights California, the Black Parallel School Board and the National Center for Youth Law

The district agreed to no longer suspend elementary and middle school aged children for "willful defiance." In September, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law that makes it illegal for California public and charter schools to suspend disruptive students from kindergarten through eighth grade. The law goes into effect July 1, 2020. Previously, the ban was in place just for kindergarten through fifth grade.

The law aims to address the racial disparity in school suspensions. Black students made up 5.6 percent of the total enrollment for academic year 2017-18, but accounted for 15.6 percent of total suspensions for willful defiance, according to the California Department of Education.

In 2017, suspensions in California resulted in more than 760,000 missed days of instruction. Black and Native American students who were suspended missed more days per capita than any other racial or ethnic group, according to a report by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA.

The district said it will offer students a special education assessment plan within 15 days of a request, and school administrators and staff will no longer ask students to leave school because of their behavior.

"These measures are significant to students with disabilities and their parents and guardians whom we and other advocates in our community fight for and support," said Darryl White of the Black Parallel School Board. "The district's willingness to implement these interim measures has encouraged (us) to engage in cooperative discussions with the district about potential broader and more permanent reforms and protections for our students."

At the time of the lawsuit, attorneys said Sacramento City Unified failed to provide services, accommodations and modifications required by state law in order for students to thrive in an academic environment.

One of the three students named in the lawsuit was a fourth-grader who was diagnosed with autism, dyslexia and ADHD, and was "repeatedly excluded from the District's extracurricular and afterschool activities and has been singled out and subjected to shortened school days for prolonged periods of time," according to court documents.

The student was formally suspended last school year for 17 school days and kept in the office on many other occasions, according to the suit. The suit alleged the student was suspended more than any other student at the school that year, and that district staff suggested that he dis-enroll from the district after he ran into the street during school hours, and his guardians and doctor requested temporary home schooling.

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