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Settlement over SUSD's police practices announced

Record - 1/23/2019

Jan. 23--STOCKTON -- The California Department of Justice and Stockton Unified School District have agreed on a settlement to address "system-wide violations of civil and constitutional rights" committed by the district's Police Department towards minority students and students with disabilities.

Speaking from inside the district's boardroom on Tuesday, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra laid out an extensive 5-year plan on new policies, procedures and practices that will be implemented.

"We're marching together -- forward -- towards fair treatment and opportunity for all students who attend Stockton Unified schools in this area, regardless of their race and disability status," said Becerra.

According to Becerra, the DOJ found in its investigation into the Stockton Unified School District Police Department that certain policies and practices largely discriminated against black and Latino students and children with disabilities. The investigation also identified certain unconstitutional "search and seizure" practices. Children who are criminalized for minor misconducts are then more likely to have long-term negative consequences, Becerra said.

The 9-page complaint filed in the Sacramento County Superior Court detailed that the investigation began in November 2015 into whether the district and SUSDPD complied with state and federal laws in regards to interactions between students and district officers.

Between 2013 and 2015, according to the complaint, black and Latino youth were over-represented in incident reports involving student misbehavior in comparison to white students.

"For black youth 10 (years) and over, the odds that an incident involving a black student resulted in being booked into custody were 148 percent greater than other students," the complaint read. "For Hispanic youth 10 and over ... resulted in being booked into custody were 124 percent greater than other students."

Concerns were also raised of increased criminalization of minor student misbehaviors that would ordinarily be taken care of through administration discipline but instead became law enforcement matters.

In regards to students with disabilities, the DOJ found that SUSD "failed to reasonably modify policies" relating to referrals to law enforcement with students being subject to "interrogation, use of force and/or arrests for conduct resulting from their disabilities." The DOJ further alleges the district also failed to ensure effective communication of law enforcement investigations for students who are hard-of-hearing or deaf.

The complaint said that SUSD engaged in certain unconstitutional search and seizure practices involving students. In one operation, a canine inspection program had dogs brought to school sites on a random and suspicion-less basis, and students were directed to leave their belongings in a classroom without their consent to be sniffed.

"If the canine had alerted to a belonging, the backpack could be searched by district administrators," the complaint said. "Though the district's board policy included that students could not be required to leave their belongings behind for such inspections, students in practice had no choice. Furthermore, the lack of training with respect to Fourth Amendment protections in schools led to highly intrusive practices in one high school wherein school administrators conducted classroom-wide random, suspicion-less pat-down searches of students' persons."

SUSD has since suspended its search and seizure program.

"Actions like these lead students to begin to go down the road -- the wrong road -- and it also leads a school toward criminalization of minor misconduct that can result in long-term negative consequences," Becerra said.

"We're all too aware of the intolerable school-to-prison pipeline."

To fix the issues, the DOJ and SUSD worked together and agreed to several new policies, such as:

--Clearer policies and procedures outlining how and when school administrators refer students to law enforcement.

--Creating a formal diversion program to address minor school-based criminal offenses to minimize arrest citations and bookings.

--Hiring a trained disability coordinator at SUSDPD to ensure compliance with disability discrimination laws.

--Creating protocol for administrators to refer students who exhibit indicators of mental health needs instead of to police.

--Training all officers on crisis intervention.

--Tracking and analysis of all arrests and referrals to law enforcement from schools and the creation of a community advisory committee.

SUSD Superintendent John Deasy said the district has already begun to make several of the changes and is in the process of implementing several of the terms agreed upon. The agreement also completes the DOJ's years-long comprehensive investigation into SUSDPD.

"We take the notion of life-long learning -- and not life-long punishment -- dead serious," he said. "That is why we proudly join in this joint effort to continue the work that we've done on the improvement of opportunities for students."

Deasy also pointed out that suspension and expulsion rates are down, while student attendance is up and long-term student absences are also down.

"You can't graduate college, career and community-ready if you don't stay with us," said Deasy.

To close the news conference, Becerra said he felt confident that the settlement will provide needed changes to help young people in Stockton stay in school and out of the criminal justice system and said he appreciated the district and Police Department's cooperation.

He also had a message for parents, saying that they need to step forward in raising their children.

"The schools here in Stockton are making a commitment to treat everybody fairly and equally, but we need the parents' help," Becerra said.

"Please participate in your child's school; monitor your child's activity; be aware of what your kids are doing; help the teachers, administrators, and staff make sure that every child has an opportunity to learn. Let's not neglect the troubles that occur in some of our classrooms. It is tough to teach in some classrooms if you have disturbances, and I think everyone who works at SUSD probably works there because they want to teach kids, not discipline them, not have them fail, so we all have a responsibility."

Contact reporter Nicholas Filipas at (209) 546-8257 or nfilipas@recordnet.com. Follow him on Twitter @nicholasfilipas.

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(c)2019 The Record (Stockton, Calif.)

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