U.S. Education Department Reaches Settlement with Lodi Unified School District in California

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The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced today that the Lodi Unified School District in Lodi, California, has entered into a resolution agreement to end the racially discriminatory impact of the district’s discipline policies and address concerns that it disciplines African-American students more harshly than white students.

“I thank Lodi Unified School District for its renewed commitment to civil rights, ensuring that its discipline policies and practices keep students in the classroom learning critical content rather than lessons in discrimination,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights.

OCR found that Lodi’s discipline policy, while neutral on its face and not adopted with discriminatory intent, had a disproportionate impact on African-American students and was not necessary to meet the district’s educational goals, thereby violating Title VI. Specifically, the district permitted individual schools to develop and impose different consequences for discipline incidents than described in the district’s Conduct Code that are permitted by state law.

These school site deviations not only undermine Lodi’s stated educational goal of consistency in discipline practices, but also permit district-wide disparities in discipline practices for African-American students in contrast with white students. Schools with higher percentages of African-American students established harsher punishment for discipline incidents and African-American students received disproportionately higher levels of discipline than white students.

OCR found that African-American students were overrepresented at almost every level of discipline to a statistically significant degree–from referral to in-school-suspension, out-of-school suspension, expulsion, and citation – every year analyzed, including each of the four school-years from 2011 to 2015.

Examples included:

  • In 2014-15, African-American students were over five times more likely than white students to receive an out-of-school suspension for willful defiance or disruption. 
  • In 2013-14, African-American students received almost half of the suspensions for willful defiance or disruption at Bear Creek and McNair High Schools, even though African-American students at those schools made up only 15 percent of the student population.
  • African-American students were 6.84 times more likely than white students to receive an in- or out-of-school suspension for tardiness or truancy in 2014-15, even though suspending students for tardiness or truancy is not permitted by California state law.
  • In 2013-14, Lodi’s 2,827 African-American students received more than 2,400 in-school and out-of-school suspensions and lost roughly 3,400 days of instruction as a result. In contrast, the district’s 7,719 white students experienced one-half the number of in-school and out-of-school incidents – just 1,210 – and roughly 1,200 fewer days of lost instruction.

OCR also had concerns that Lodi treated African-American students differently and more harshly with respect to imposition of discipline:

  • African-American students were 2.13 times more likely in 2011-12, 2.15 times more likely in 2012-13, 2.05 times more likely in 2013-14, and 3.13 times more likely in 2014-15 than white students to receive a disciplinary referral.
  • In 2014-15, African American students were 3.52 times more likely to be in-school suspended, 4.47 times more likely to be out-of-school suspended, and 4.3 times more likely to be expelled, as compared to white students.

OCR also investigated a complaint filed on behalf of an African-American student alleging that the student was disciplined more harshly than a white student. The white student called the African- American student a racial epithet and said that racial epithets were frequently used by students to refer to African-American students at the high school the student attended.

The facts revealed that the African-American student assaulted the white student the next day but the white student did not fight back.  Although OCR found that the students engaged in different behavior, OCR had concerns that this District High School with a low percentage of African American students used its harsher district-wide Conduct Code to discipline the African-American student and its less harsh school site discipline policy to discipline the white student.  OCR also had concerns that Lodi did not follow its own policies to address alleged harassment.

Lodi entered into a resolution agreement to remedy: OCR’s finding of a disparate impact violation, as well as OCR’s concerns regarding different treatment of African-American students district-wide; and the concerns regarding the district’s response to the individual allegation of discrimination.

Among the provisions, the resolution agreement requires Lodi to:

  • continue to employ a Positive School Climate Coordinator to coordinate implementation of the agreement for the duration of the agreement’s term;
  • consult with experts to identify root causes for the district’s racial disparities in discipline and develop and implement an action plan, approved by OCR;
  • revise its discipline policies and practices and regularly train staff to ensure consistency and nondiscriminatory administration of discipline;
  • adopt student-focused remedies including a system of research-based student supports and interventions, as well as early intervention for at-risk students;
  • conduct school discipline climate surveys in all district schools and incorporate relevant information obtained into the action plan;
  • revise policies and procedures and training and the memorandum of understanding with regard to SROs to ensure nondiscriminatory administration of discipline;
  • ensure that the district consistently collects and reports discipline data on a number of discipline factors, reviews data regularly, and self-monitors; and
  • issue written guidance and provide training regarding racial harassment, and create a plan to prevent racial harassment for the school at issue in the case.

A copy of the resolution letter is posted here. And, a copy of the agreement can be found here.

OCR’s mission is to ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights. OCR is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination by educational institutions on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, sex, and age, as well as the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act of 2001. Additional information about OCR is available here.