The U.S. Department of Education Rules in Favor of Students with Disabilities Requiring Chino Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) To Reform Discriminatory Threat Assessment Policies

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The U.S. Department of Education Rules in Favor of Students with Disabilities Requiring Chino Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) To Reform Discriminatory Threat Assessment Policies

A young hispanic boy in a classroom looking at the chalkboard in front of him.
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(Chino Valley, CA) - On April 16, 2021, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education ruled in favor of students with disabilities. OCR’s decision requires the Chino Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) to reform its discriminatory threat assessment policies. Under the resolution agreement with OCR, CVUSD must train its staff and design new policies that prevent discrimination.

Threat assessments are a process that schools use to distinguish “transient” threats, such as jokes or temporary expressions of anger, from actual threats. OCR concluded that CVUSD’s threat assessment policies violate the “direct threat” standard in federal law. Under this standard, districts performing threat assessments on students with disabilities must consider whether the student poses a significant risk and whether the risk can be addressed by providing services to the student.

Schools intend for threat assessments to maintain school safety, but these assessments can leave a lasting, negative impact on children. This is especially true in cases like that of Disability Rights California’s client, L.B., where schools use threat assessments needlessly and inappropriately. Schools are also more likely to use threat assessments on students of color with disabilities. Schools often subject these students to threat assessments for disability-related behaviors.

L.B. is an eight-year-old Latino student with behavioral disabilities. In May 2019, L.B. became upset while meeting with his principal and told her that he would harm her. CVUSD did a homicide threat screening on L.B. and then referred him to an outside agency for a homicide threat assessment. CVUSD did not talk with L.B.’s parent or other members of his IEP team. Both CVUSD and the agency failed to document that L.B. has disabilities, which cause the exact behaviors that prompted assessment. After the incident, CVUSD failed to schedule an IEP meeting to offer L.B. more support for his behaviors.

L.B’s experiences show the harm of CVUSD’s discriminatory policies. “My son still struggles to make friends or even speak up sometimes, because he fears he will either get in trouble or get bullied,” says L.B.’s mother, A.V. “He also doesn’t want to talk to his teachers because he is scared they won’t believe him. Therefore, every year he has a trust barrier and has to develop trust during the year. For me as well, the threat assessment caused me a lot of stress and negatively impacted my health.”

Under the resolution agreement with OCR, CVUSD must train its staff and design new policies that prevent discrimination. Some of the revisions include:

  • Requiring threat assessments document the child’s disability and consider whether the behaviors are disability-related;
  • Requiring threat assessments consider whether providing accommodations or services to the child could address the risk;
  • Gathering input from parents and other IEP or 504 team members during the threat assessment process; and
  • Scheduling an IEP or 504 plan meeting after the threat assessment to discuss whether the child needs more support.

“Threat assessments are not a substitute for positive behavioral supports. Overusing or inappropriately using these assessments, particularly for young children, results in trauma, distrust, and early contact with the criminal legal system,” says Lindsay Appell, Staff Attorney at Disability Rights California. “We want districts to understand that no matter the circumstances, students with disabilities are still protected from discrimination under federal law.”

L.B.’s mother is heartened by OCR’s decision and adds: “I would like to see more resources for Special Education and more planning and training to help children with disabilities succeed.”

News Coverage

Media Contacts

Melody Pomraning
Communications Director
Disability Rights California
(916) 504-5938
Melody.Pomraning@disabilityrightsca.org

 

 

Disability Rights California (DRC) is the agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities. The mission of drc is to defend, advance, and strengthen the rights and opportunities of people with disabilities. For more information visit: https://www.disabilityrightsca.org.