DOJ Cracks Down on Stockton's 'School-to-Prison Pipeline' After Discrimination Findings

1 min
Attorney General Xavier Becerra stands alongside Stockton Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy and SUSD Police Department Lieutenant Richard Barries at a press conference at the school district's headquarters in downtown Stockton on Jan 22, 2019.  (Alex Hall/KQED)

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced on Tuesday an agreement with the Stockton Unified School District (SUSD) aimed at ending systemwide discrimination against minority and disabled students after an investigation found schools frequently referred students to the district's police department for issues that could have been handled by administrators or teachers.

The investigation found those practices had a disparate impact on African-American and Latino students and students with disabilities. It also raised concerns about the use of force in Stockton schools.

According to a complaint filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, a review and analysis of incident reports involving minors from 2013-2015 found some schools frequently requested assistance from law enforcement, “including for minor disciplinary infractions such as students refusing to switch classrooms and disrupting class.”

At a Tuesday press conference in Stockton, Becerra said the policies and practices of SUSD and its police department led to students being criminalized for minor misconduct.

“Oftentimes that tracked a lot of these students into the criminal justice system, which begins that very vicious cycle that many consider the school-to-prison pipeline,” Becerra said.

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Standing alongside Becerra, Stockton Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy pointed to changes the district has already made in its cooperation with the California Attorney General’s Office.

“We take the notion of lifelong learning — not lifelong punishment — dead serious,” Deasy said.

“We think a lot about ‘Stockton now’ and ‘Stockton then.’ This inquiry ... began a number of years ago and looked at the data at that point. The data looks different today. And that is a joint effort in examining what was pointed out and our commitment to do better,” Deasy said.

In 2015, a coalition of organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, alerted the California Department of Justice that increased police-student contact at Stockton schools appeared to be having a disproportionately negative impact on students of color and students with disabilities.

The California DOJ began investigating the school district and its police department in November 2015.

In 2016, the ACLU sued Stockton Unified to obtain records of police interactions with students and eventually obtained the records through a settlement. Arrest data produced from the documents showed a “culture of over-policing” by the district, according to the ACLU.

In October 2017, the Attorney General’s Office concluded that for children under 10, the odds of incidents with African-American students resulting in police action at Stockton Unified schools were 176.9 percent higher than for white students.

The DOJ's analysis found that the odds of an incident involving a Latino student 10 and over resulting in the student being booked into custody were 124 percent greater than for other students.

The investigation found that SUSD failed to modify its policies related to referrals to law enforcement, resulting in students with disabilities being subject to interrogation, use of force and/or arrest for behavior resulting from their disabilities.

“When students acted out due to their disabilities, they were at times referred to law enforcement,” Becerra said. “We found that law enforcement referrals had a disparate impact on African-American and Latino students at Stockton Unified.”

As part of the settlement, the Department of Justice will monitor Stockton Unified for five years. The district will also be required to reformulate clear policies with respect to when students are referred to law enforcement and adopt policies which state that police officers should not be involved in disciplinary infractions that are more appropriately the responsibility of school administrators and teachers.

“We are cautiously optimistic,” said Linnea Nelson, an ACLU staff attorney who represents the organization in the Stockton Education Equity Coalition. “Several elements of the settlement agreement reflect positive changes for which the Stockton Education Equity Coalition, of which the ACLU is part, has been fighting for many years. ... We hope the district takes seriously its obligation to implement this agreement with fidelity.”

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