By John Crowder
At the March 25, 2015 meeting of the Antioch School Board, the trustees approved, in closed session, an “Interim Settlement Agreement” with the East County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) over a complaint against the district by the civil rights organization. The agreement was approved on a 4-1 vote, with board Vice President Diane Gibson-Gray casting the sole vote in opposition. Board President Claire Smith and Trustees Barbara Cowan, Walter Ruehlig, and Debra Vinson all voted in favor.
Reporting out of closed session at the beginning of the meeting, Smith informed those attending that an agreement had been reached between the District and the NAACP in order to prevent a potentially expensive lawsuit by the latter. The agreement, according to the settlement document, which can be viewed, here AUSD-NAACP Settlement Agreement, was in response to allegations of violations of parts of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
According to a press release issued by the Equal Justice Society, “African American students in the Antioch Unified School District represented only 24.8% of the student population, yet received 57.3% of all suspensions and 61.4% of all expulsions.” The press release further quotes Willie Mims, Education Chair of the East County Branch of the NAACP as saying that the, “disproportionate suspension of African American students greatly harms their chances for a quality education.”
Essentially, the agreement puts the potential lawsuit on hold until at least December 31, 2015, while the District engages specified, “experts for purposes of the settlement agreement.” A final settlement agreement is to be negotiated following the receipt of reports by the chosen experts.
The experts to be engaged by the District include:
Dan Losen, Director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies (CCRR) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), to review District disciplinary data, policies and practices.
Jeffrey Sprague, Ph.D., of the University of Oregon, to review IDEA/Section 504 practices, including child find, assessment, behavioral and academic services.
Professor john a. powell and Ingrid Melvaer Paulin of the University of California, Berkeley Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, the Center for Policing Equity, and Professor Rachel D. Godsil, Director of Research for Perception Institute and Seton Hall University School of Law, along with other researchers, to examine the relationship between psychological phenomena (e.g., implicit bias, racial anxiety, and stereotype threat) and disproportionate outcomes.
In addition to the above, Losen and Sprague are charged with coordinating “a joint review of the District’s PBIS and RTI systems (current and planned).”
According to the agreement, both Losen and Sprague are expected to spend some time on-site at AUSD. For their work, each is to be compensated by an amount that, “may not exceed $60,000, excluding travel expenses,” for a total maximum cost of $120,000 plus travel costs for their portion of the work.
In addition to the above-mentioned fees, the District has acknowledged that the “initial analysis” undertaken by the social psychology experts, “may cost the District up to $20,000.”
As part of the agreement, the District has also agreed to “work in good faith to make administrators and teachers available for participation in survey, interview and other examination.” Further, they have agreed that participation by District staff, “shall be voluntary,” and those participating shall be allowed, “reasonable on-duty time…to participate.”
The combined cost of all fees to be paid for the analysis is a maximum of $140,000 ($120,000 + $20,000) plus travel expenses. Presumably, other costs would be incurred in order to arrange for substitute teachers to fill in for teachers participating while “on-duty,” and costs for administrators participating would also be absorbed by the District.
Dr. Donald Gill, Ed.D., Superintendent of Schools for AUSD, responded to a request for a statement concerning the agreement.
“We have taken an honest and hard look at our programs, in the context of social justice and civil rights, and while we have many great initiatives in place, we agree that there is much more work to be done. We hope to be a model for positive, student focused problem-solving,” Gill said. “Lawsuits are, by design, confrontational and engender defensive behavior, but we chose to look at the broader theme, where we can agree to take a step toward building shared goals to help improve education for our under-served students.”
“To say we lost a legal battle is misrepresentation, we see it as an agreement to share goals and commit to improved services for our students. I hope education leaders across the nation will see this approach as a model of humble, honest, student-focused collaboration,” Gill added.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the AUSD Board of Education will take place on April 15. Meetings are held at the AUSD office at 510 G Street, and begin at 7:00 p.m.