Commentary, Erika Brooks
There is an education crisis in our community, and the Kern High School District is being held accountable.
About three weeks ago, Kern County Superior Court Judge Eric Bradshaw ruled that a discrimination suit filed by Latino and African American students against the Kern High School District can move forward. The goal of the lawsuit is to correct the district’s current discipline practices, to eliminate the disproportionate rates of suspension, expulsion and involuntary transfer of students of color, and to ensure the rights of students to a quality education. The lawsuit also seeks transparency.
It’s been reported that more African American students are being disciplined and suspended than any other race. The findings were part of the Discipline Analysis Report, conducted by Dr. Jon Eyler and contracted by the district and approved by the board last November.
Chad Vegas, the Kern High School District Board’s president, says he agrees with the data but not Dr. Eyler’s research that led him to the conclusion that the disparities in punishment are attributable to implicit bias.
Clearly, there is a problem at Kern High School District, now what will they do about it?
KHSD has said it will do whatever is necessary to provide a safe learning environment for all of its students. Well, here’s a start. This year KHSD will receive an extra $31 million from the state to support schools that serve the neediest students. It is part of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), and it’s a state law.
KHSD can use this money to improve services to help the students with the most need to stay in school and become career and college ready.
When a child is thrown out of school for a minor issue, we all suffer, because that young person isn’t in class and isn’t achieving. When our youngest residents are thriving and learning and receiving a quality education, it lifts the whole community — all of us.
The court has made it clear that all students have the right to advance their constitutional and statutory rights to equal and fair education in Bakersfield. This is a major step for justice. Now, KHSD should use the funding provided under LCFF as an opportunity to address their legal obligations by fully implementing practices such as PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Support) and Restorative Justice, which empowers students to resolve conflicts on their own and is proven to be effective in many schools districts, and provide training about implicit bias in discipline throughout the district. This will help keep kids in class and learning.
On June 22, KHSD will be approving their Local Control Accountability Plan and we continue to encourage the board to approve a plan that supports a positive school climate and authentic parent engagement in the district.
We also recommend that the extra money should be used to provide more counselors, reduce class sizes and make the changes that will help improve the community’s future, ensuring that all students receive the quality education they deserved.
Erika M. Brooks is the education program manager for the Dolores Huerta Foundation. She chairs the Kern Education Justice Collaborative, a coalition of organizations working for education equity in Kern County
This story originally appeared in the Bakersfield Californian on June 19.