Court ruling reverses Kern Superior Court decision; students can sue state for ‘failing’ to hold school districts accountable for discriminatory practices

August 28, 2019 /

A California Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that students and community organizations can sue the State of California, through the Superintendent of Public Instruction, for failing to monitor and hold school districts accountable for discriminatory suspension, expulsion or transfer, according to a press release by the Equal Justice Society.

The ruling, by the California Court of Appeals for the Fifth Appellate District in Collins v. Torlakson, reverses a Kern County Superior Court decision dismissing the State Superintendent from a lawsuit filed in October 2014 by multiple organizations, including California Rural Legal Assistance, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, Equal Justice Society, and pro bono counsel Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati.

“This is a long-needed affirmation of what we all know to be true, the State of California may not sit back and do nothing in the face of discriminatory practices by school districts that push students of color out of the classroom,” said Cynthia L. Rice, lead counsel for the Plaintiffs and Director of Litigation, Advocacy & Training for CRLA. “We welcome the opportunity to meet with Superintendent Thurmond to discuss how CDE will address its duty under the law.”

The lawsuit alleges that the State Superintendent and the California Department of Education violated the California State Constitution when they failed to take action regarding Kern High School District suspension, expulsion and school transfer policies that discriminated against African American and Latino students.

The court said the State has a duty to monitor whether or not school districts are complying with federal and state anti-discrimination
laws and that they may be sued when they fail to do so, according to the Equal Justice Society.

“The state of California has always had a moral duty and, this court ruling confirms, also a legal duty to make real the promises in both federal and state law of equal educational opportunity for all,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “Sixty-five years after Brown v. Board, this is a critical holding for California’s public school students.”

The goal of the lawsuit was to correct the school district’s disciplinary practices, to eliminate the disproportionate suspensions of students of color, to foster a safe environment with effective disciplinary responses, and to improve student educational access.

“The State contributes to the problem by failing to hold school districts accountable when there is clear evidence that practices are hurting students of color,” said Chris Bridges of the Equal Justice Society. “The Court of Appeals decision makes it clear that the State must act.”

Plaintiffs and KHSD reached a landmark settlement in which KHSD officials agreed to comprehensive changes to its disciplinary policies. The settlement is still in effect.

A community meeting will be held on Sept. 4 at 6 p.m. at Mill Creek Christian Church. Parents and students can share their stories about whether KHSD is complying with the settlement.

Kern Sol News is a youth-led journalism organization in Kern County. In their stories, reporters shine light on health and racial disparities in under-served communities across Kern. For more stories by South Kern Sol, head to