MOJAVE — The California Attorney General’s Office struck a deal with the Mojave Unified School District addressing what the Department of Justice called “critical shortfalls in the District's policies and practices, including in relation to complaints of discrimination and retaliation,” according to a news release.
The settlement follows an investigation that MUSD failed to investigate reports that a now former school principal had threatened immigration consequences against the employer of a student’s parents. According to the news release, the was in retaliation for advocacy efforts to address a complaint of discriminatory treatment against the student.
The original document, filed by the Attorney General’s office, redacted the student’s name and did not mention a particular MUSD school.
The AG’s office and Department of Education launched the investigation in May 2019 to determine whether the district’s policies targeted the student and others in similar practices and subjected them to denial of an educational opportunity or access to state-regulated rights based on national origin and/or immigration status.
“The California Constitution guarantees each and every child the fundamental right to a public education,” said Attorney General Becerra in the news release. “That right must be more than just words on a piece of paper. Today’s agreement is about making the promise of our laws a reality for our students — no matter where they or their parents come from.
The investigation wrapped up in January, after finding the district did not follow through on investigating the claim regarding the principal who made the threats.
Additionally, the investigation found that the district “deficiencies under state law in the District’s independent study and supervised suspension programs, search and seizure practices, special education evaluation and alternative placement into county community schools, and student record confidentiality training and protocols.”
In the news release, newly-hired MUSD Superintendent Katherine Aguirre said the situation around the investigation was unfortunate.
“It is unfortunate to learn that a student and his family have been wrongfully affected by a public institution’s failure to ensure non-discriminatory practices and complaints policies were adhered to," Aguirre said. "There is no room for discrimination of any type in a public school setting. As the new Superintendent of Mojave Unified School District and lifelong advocate for equity and inclusion, I am committed to working with the Department of Justice in addressing and leading the District to remedy the deficiencies identified by the DOJ.”
The California Department of Education noted MUSD enrolled more than 2,800 students for the 2019-2020 year, half of which were Latino.
The settlement will require the district to implmenent a four-year plan and “resolve several education access and opportunity issues, including improving procedures for handling complaints of discrimination and retaliation, student discipline, searches and seizures, and special education evaluation.”
According to the news release, the agreement between the DOJ and Mojave Unified will call for corrective actions, including:
Improve procedures for handling student complaints, including ensuring that staff understand their obligations under the law to adequately respond to and track reports of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation;
Ensure alternative education programs meet legal requirements, following findings that the District provided only 10-15 minutes of support per week to below-grade-level students in independent study and that students placed in supervised suspension did not have a credentialed teacher for at least half a school year;
Train staff in records management, as part of an effort to prevent the loss or removal of confidential student records;
Address potentially inappropriate transfers to county community day schools, which, if not for expulsion, generally may only occur with the voluntary and informed consent of the student and family;
Increase the accessibility of special education evaluations, building on the District’s affirmative move to eliminate a screening process in order to help parents or guardians have a meaningful opportunity to engage in decisions about whether to evaluate their child for mental health-related disabilities;
Reform practices on searches and seizures, making sure there is reasonable suspicion, as legally required, before class-wide or grade-level-wide searches are conducted;
Notify families of the availability of translation and interpretation services, recognizing that meaningful access to education cannot be dependent on a student’s ability to translate between staff and a parent or guardian;
Conduct a quarterly community advisory survey, supporting efforts to gage the efficacy of the independent study program and alternative education arrangements; and
Remedy grievances suffered by an individual student, including by removing certain absences in the student’s record and providing 125 hours of free compensatory education and mental health services.
Becerra said it’s “going to take sustained work to make that happen, but we have high hopes for the Mojave Unified School District. With collaboration and dedicated teachers, counselors, staff, and families, we know we can get the job done together.”
Becerra noted that while the action applies to MUSD, he expressed hope that it would serve as a model for similar scenarios.
“Our schools are meant to be a safe harbor and place of learning,” Becerra said. “When that doesn't happen, we must take action to ensure students and their families are treated with dignity and respect. At the California Department of Justice, we’re committed to breaking down barriers and helping all of our children receive the education they deserve.”