Investigation into Various Compliance Complaints Against the Antelope Valley Union High School District

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Investigation into Various Compliance Complaints Against the Antelope Valley Union High School District

Today, after a near two-year investigation, Disability Rights California (DRC) releases a 420-page authored by educational expert Dr. Jaime Hernandez finding pervasive disability discrimination and race discrimination occurring throughout Antelope Valley Union High School District (AVUHSD) towards students with disabilities, particularly Black students with disabilities, and generally towards Black students. The report is based on an extensive investigation conducted through DRC’s Protection and Advocacy authority which included multiple site visits, data analysis, community surveys, and interviews with AVUHSD staff members, and an in-depth review of current policies, procedures, and practices.

The report finds AVUHSD:

  • Suspends about 1/3 of Black students with disabilities, resulting in a suspension rate more than three times higher than their disabled peers; 
  • Refers Black students with disabilities to police at nearly 5 times the rate of their disabled peers;Subject Black students to long-term removals at a rate 7.5 times higher than their peers;
  • Removes Black students and students with disabilities to in-school suspension atsignificantly higher rates than their peers;
  • Expels Black students at over 8 times the rate of their peers and Black students with disabilities at over 5.5 times the rate of their disabled peers;
  • Causes students to suffer a total of 46.5 school years of lost instruction per school year due to high suspension practices with Black students enduring 50% of lost instruction;
  • Identifies Black students as having an Emotional Disturbance at more than three timesthe rate of their peers; and
  • Segregates students with disabilities from nondisabled students at significantly higher rates than the national average; 

AVUSD should urgently implement policies and practices to stop harming its students, particularly Black students and Black students with disabilities, and take the following steps:

  • Develop an LRE framework and districtwide initiative to improve inclusive practices and guide the decision-making process of IEP teams to improve students’ access to the general education curriculum and settings; 
  • Establish and mandate uniform processes and procedures for out of school suspension, in school suspension, and manifestation determination reviews;
  • Reprioritize resources to address the academic, social emotional, behavioral, and mental health needs of students over campus security and SRO programs;
  • Develop a special education policy and procedures manual;
  • Require trainings in various areas, such as crisis response and de-escalation strategies, alternatives to suspensions and restorative practices, data entry procedures, racial bias including implicit bias, disability related-behaviors, and manifestation determination review best practices.

Executive Summary

On March 28, 2022, DRC, Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles (NLSLA), Equal Justice Society (EJS), and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP, on behalf of Cancel the Contract-Antelope Valley (CTC) and students V.X., Z.R., L.W., B.Y., and K.D. (Complainants), filed a formal complaint with the California Department of Education (CDE) that included various allegations regarding the disproportionate mistreatment of students with disabilities (SWDs), particularly Black SWDs.

The Complaint alleges that the Antelope Valley Union High School District’s (District) policies, procedures, and practices (referred to in the Complaint as “Policies”) regarding “discipline, policing, and segregation of students with disabilities violate the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), California Education Code Section 56000 et esq., California Education Codes 200 and 220, California Government Code Section 11135, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (“Section 504”), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“Title II”)” (pp. 4-5). The Complaint petitioned the CDE to investigate the various allegations, order systemic remedies to end racial disparities, and reform its special education system.

The Complaint includes allegations in the following areas:

  • disproportionate identification and placement of students with disabilities (SWDs) and Black SWDs in segregated settings, including restrictive and punitive placements such as the special day class – behavior (SDC-B) program and Desert Pathways Special Education Center School
  • excessive and disproportionate use of exclusionary disciplinary actions towards SWDs and Black SWDs, including out-of-school and in-school suspensions 
  • disproportionate expulsion and transfers of SWDs and Black SWDs for disciplinary reasons, and shortcomings with the procedural safeguards (manifestation determination reviews) to prevent SWDs from being inappropriately transferred to more restrictive placements due to behaviors related to their disability
  • excessive and disproportionate referrals of SWDs and Black SWDs to law enforcement for disciplinary matters—many that are disability related—that leads to restraint, citation, and arrest
  • the role of campus security in addressing student discipline and escalating student behaviors, and their disproportionate and excessive use of traumatic interventions, such as searches, restraints, and citation of SWDs and Black SWDs
  • noncompliance with the requirements for addressing, documenting, and reporting emergency behavioral interventions, including restraints and seclusions of SWDs and Black SWDs 
  • lack of overall positive behavioral supports as well as social emotional and mental health supports and services in IEPs of students who are experiencing behavioral challenges and receive exclusionary disciplinary actions
  • inappropriate disciplinary referrals of SWDs to probation officers and law enforcement for students who require threat assessments

In April 2022, DRC and NLSLA contacted Jaime E. Hernandez, Ed.D. and Associates, Inc., to consult and conduct an independent investigation regarding the Complaint. This report is the result of the investigation into the allegations.

The report is organized into sections to address the various areas of the Complaint and the related allegations of non-compliance, as outlined below. Some allegations have been coupled or reordered in order to present the data in a cohesive manner.

  • Section 1. Introduction
  • Section 2. Disproportionality in Special Education Categories and More Restrictive Placements
  • Section 3. Exclusionary School Discipline of Students with Disabilities, Including Out-of-School Suspensions
  • Section 4. Exclusionary School Discipline of Students with Disabilities, Including In-School Suspensions
  • Section 5. Expulsions, Manifestation Determination Reviews, and Voluntary and Involuntary Transfer of Students with Disabilities 
  • Section 6. Referrals to Law Enforcement and Probation Officers, and Restraints, Searches, and Threat Assessments 
  • Section 7. Methods
  • Section 8. Conclusions and Recommendations