Civil Rights Groups Sue Sacramento for Discrimination Against Black Disabled Students

Several nonprofit civil rights organizations have filed a lawsuit against the Sacramento City Unified School District, claiming Black students with disabilities are facing discrimination.

The Equal Justice Society, Disability Rights California, the National Center for Youth Law, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty filed the suit on September 5 in the US District Court for the Eastern District of California on behalf of three students in the district and the Black Parallel School Board organization. In the lawsuit, it claims students in the district are placed in “a hostile, stigmatizing, and demoralizing school environment.”

“Sacramento City Unified School District... has created and perpetuates an unlawful school system that results in modern-day segregation and mistreatment of students with disabilities, particularly Black students with disabilities,” the lawsuit reads. “Despite being on notice of its discriminatory conduct for years, the District has not taken steps to effectively eradicate the problems described herein.”

The lawsuit alleges that the school district segregates students with disabilities, which denies them important educational opportunities and keeps them from attending class with peers without disabilities.

“The District effectively segregates almost half of its students with disabilities by relegating them to separate classrooms on otherwise integrated campuses for a majority of the school day or removing them to entirely segregated campuses. As alleged herein, these segregated students receive disparate and sub-par academic instruction and opportunities, and are less likely to graduate from high school, less likely [to] be ready for college or a career, and less likely to meet the grade-level education standards established by the State,” the lawsuit states.

“Upon information and belief, this disparate education is even greater for Black students with disabilities.”

Mona Tawatao, an attorney at the Equal Justice Society, told The Sacramento Bee that the district is not providing necessary services and accommodations for students with disabilities to flourish academically.

“The district has created and perpetuated a system of segregation of students with disabilities,” Tawatao told the publication. “When we say segregation, we mean students with disabilities being put into separate classroom for large periods on any given day, pushing students out of the district and mistreating them. When we say segregation, it also encompasses exclusionary practices and excessive discipline for Black students.”

One of the plaintiffs, referenced by the pseudonym “Konrad,” is a Black nine-year-old, fourth-grade student in the district who has been diagnosed as on the autism spectrum, dyslexic, and having Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The lawsuit alleges that “the District has failed to provide Konrad with appropriate mental health, behavioral, or social evaluations, supports, or services that would help him to be successful in the general education environment.”

The lawsuit states that the nine-year-old was suspended for 17 school days during the 2018-2019 school year for “disability-related behavior or behavior related to his response to experiencing identity-based bullying and harassment.” Konrad was suspended more than any other student during that school year and has also been excluded from extracurricular and after-school activities. In the spring of 2019, Konrad ran into traffic during the middle of the school day in an apparent suicide attempt, the lawsuit alleges. When his grandparents and a doctor requested that Konrad temporarily be instructed at home following the incident, the district reportedly “suggested in writing that he instead dis-enroll from the District.”

“Because of the District’s policies that deny students with disabilities access to the general education environment, Konrad is at constant risk of being removed from his elementary school and placed in a segregated setting where he also will not have equal access to his public education and where he is likely to be subjected to additional harms, such as a heightened risk of restraint and seclusion,” the lawsuit reads. “He remains at constant risk of experiencing exclusionary discipline.”

Tawatao told CBS13 that based on a 2017 report by the Council of Great City Schools, schools in Sacramento were disciplining students with disabilities at twice the rate of students without disabilities.

“There’s every indication that that problem has gotten a lot worse students with disabilities… Black students with disabilities being disciplined at 10 times the rate as other students with disabilities,” she told the news station.

In a statement to The Sacramento Bee, the Sacramento City Unified School District said it does not comment on possible litigation but is taking the allegations in the lawsuit “very seriously.”

“Let it be clear that we will not tolerate any form of discrimination in our schools and are taking these allegations very seriously,” the statement to the publication read. “We will review the complaint once it is sent to us.”,

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.