The Stockton Unified School District has agreed to five years of state monitoring to settle a complaint by the California Department of Justice alleging that for years the district and its police department systematically discriminated against black and Latino students and students with disabilities when referring them to law enforcement and making arrests.
During the course of an investigation that began in 2015, the Justice Department analyzed district incident reports from 2013 through 2015 and found that black and Latino students were far more likely to have contact with school police than other students, the complaint said.
The complaint further alleged that district police overused handcuffs and restraints on students, and the district’s search and seizure procedures violated students’ rights to privacy under the Fourth Amendment.
Also, until recently the district operated a canine inspection program in which Stockton Unified officers brought police dogs onto school campuses for random and unannounced searches of students’ belongings, the complaint said. And in one high school, administrators would enter classrooms and conduct random pat-down searches of students.
Finally, investigators determined that because of improper policies and poor training the district violated the rights of students with disabilities under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Students with disabilities were interrogated, restrained and arrested for conduct resulting from their disabilities, the complaint said.
“Today’s agreement will require the Stockton school district to take important steps to address and remedy civil rights violations committed against African American and Latino students in the administration of discipline,” said Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Tuesday. “Our children, especially those with a disability, have a right to know that they will be treated equally in school and not unfairly diverted into the criminal justice system.”
The leader of a Stockton-area youth advocacy group hailed the settlement as a turning point in a nearly decade-long effort to reform discipline and policing policies at Stockton Unified.
“This is a huge, huge victory for our district, our city and the state of California,” said Sammy Nuñez, executive director of Fathers & Families of San Joaquin. “Many students in Stockton have high levels of trauma, toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences. These children should now get proper treatment and not just punishment.”
Nuñez also credited the district and Superintendent John Deasy, who was hired in May of 2018, for significant improvements over the past year. “He’s done a lot to address this and has been very open and transparent,” Nuñez said.
Stockton Unified issued a statement late Tuesday acknowledging the settlement and the monitoring plan. “We appreciate our communities continued support and commitment to the youth of Stockton Unified,” the statement read.
In their analysis of district’s incident reports, investigators found that the odds of an incident involving a black student aged 10 and over resulting in a student being arrested were 148 percent higher than for other students, the complaint said. And the odds that an incident involving a black student would result in a citation were 92 percent higher than for other students.
For incidents involving a Latino student aged 10 and over, the odds that a student would be arrested were 124 percent higher than for other students; and the odds that the incident would result in a student being cited were 164 percent higher, the complaint said.
Under the settlement, the Justice Department will monitor the district for five years to ensure that it does the following:
- Sets clear policies and procedures with respect to how and when school administrators refer students to law enforcement;
- Creates a formal diversion program to address minor school-based criminal offenses, aimed at minimizing arrest citations and bookings;
- Revises policies and procedures relating to treatment of students with disabilities in order to prevent discrimination, including the hiring of a trained “disability coordinator” at the police department to ensure compliance with disability discrimination laws;
- Creates a protocol for school site administrators to refer students who exhibit indicators of mental health needs for services instead of a referral to the police department, where appropriate;
- Trains all officers in crisis intervention so they can handle calls that relate to students in mental health crisis or exhibiting behavior that may indicate mental health needs;
- Reforms use of force policies, procedures, and practices, including a comprehensive review process;
- Ensures any searches or seizures conform with constitutional standards;
- Provides extensive training on the constitutional and civil rights of students, disability and special education laws, and elimination of bias;
- Tracks and analyzes schools’ arrests and referrals to law enforcement;
- Creates a community advisory committee.