Although the number of suspensions and expulsions have decreased in the Kern High School District since 2014, the number of students voluntarily and involuntarily transferring out school continue to be a concern for education advocates, according to a presentation made by the Kern Education Justice Collaborative Thursday at a Community Forum.
KEJC, a local organization that fights for education equity in Kern, questions if the district is using transfers as a way to remove students – majority students of color – from schools.
“Are they still getting rid of students by transferring them to continuation schools or having them agree to a voluntary transfer to community school,” asked Cynthia Rice, Director of Litigation for the California Rural Legal Assistance.
Kern High’s spokeswoman Erin Briscoe-Clarke attended the event but declined to comment on the concerns discussed at the forum. She said the concerns will be addressed at the district’s next community forum on Jan. 30.
Members of KEJC went over the data just two weeks before the district’s fourth legally mandated community forum, which is part of the terms of a $670,000 settlement agreement the district entered into in 2017 after more than 20 plaintiffs – CRLA being one – accused KHSD of disproportionately suspending and expelling Latino and African American students.
When talking about the involuntary transfers, Rice said the number has decreased since the lawsuit; however, data shows African Americans are 11 times more likely than other groups to be involuntarily transferred out of KHSD and three times more likely than white students to be transferred.
“We brought this lawsuit for the community, and it can only go so far, and we need to hold the district accountable so we can make the changes,” said Lyndsi Andreas, a staff attorney for Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, Inc.
Comprising more than 60 percent of the student body, Latinos also account for the majority of voluntary transfers, with 140 Latino students voluntarily transferring in the 2017-18 school year.
Latinos also make up the largest number of involuntary transfers, with 22 in the 2017-18 school year.
KEJC speakers noted student transfers aren’t the only area of racial divide within the district – there is a lack of diversity among KHSD staff, according to Yoana Tchoukleva, a member of the Equal Justice Society.
Tchoukleva said it’s important for the staff to reflect the student population because students work well with teachers they can relate to.
“Studies show that students of color don’t do as well if they only have white teachers,” said Tchoukleva. “Teachers of color tend to have higher expectations of students of color than white teachers do. And teachers of color tend to see less behavior problems of students of color than white teachers do.”
In the 2017-18 school year, KHSD had 190 open teaching positions, according to KEJC, and the district filled those positions with 119 white, 15 Latino and five African American teachers.
According to KEJC, 62 percent of the students in KHSD are Latino and 75 percent of staff is white.
“For a black student, having a black teacher, a single black teacher, in the grades of third through fifth grade reduces (students’) chances of dropping out of high school by 30 percent,” Tchoukleva said. “So having a single teacher of color can really make a difference in the life of a student.”
To address the lack of staff diversity, KEJC suggests the district recruit teachers in places where teachers of color live and partner with specific programs that train educators of color.
“Looking at the tiers, (KHSD) starts to begin talking the talk in diversity, but they’re not really walking the walk in diversity,” Tchoukleva said. “We all have to add pressure on the district to change and remind them that the time for change is now.”
KEJC held the community forum to prepare the community for KHSD’s forum at 7 p.m. on Jan. 30 at West High School, 1200 New Stine Road. Advocates encouraged the community to attend the forum.
“It is not a privilege for the children to be in school,” Rice said. “It is a right. It is a right many of us have fought for our entire lives and many have to fight for future generations.”