Pittsburg Unified School District, in the Bay Area of California, is accused of unequal opportunities for disabled students and will be taken to court by ACLU. On Monday, September 13, 2021 the school district was sued for denying disabled students access to equal education due to their disability, race, or national origin. According to reporter Carolyn Jones, writing in Ed Source, disabled students of color and English learners have been disproportionately disciplined and segregated into special education classrooms where they are deprived of adequate instruction. This unconstitutional treatment will be reviewed by the State Board of Education, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, the State of California, and the school district. The lawsuit calls for three major changes to be made in the district: improving the identification of disabled students to prevent uneven placement in classrooms, providing the necessary academic services to disabled students to allow them to catch up with their classmates, and changing the discipline protocols to prevent unfair punishment of disabled students.
“Pittsburg Unified has a separate, unequal and illegal system of education for students of color and those with disabilities,” said Linnea Nelson, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Northern California, quoted in Ed Source. The lawsuit is based on the 2018-19 California Department of Education’s district report on Pittsburg Unified showing that students with disabilities in the district are five times as likely to be suspended for disrupting school activities as disabled students from other schools throughout the state. They are also more likely to be chronically absent, with a 22% absentee rate compared to 19.5% nationally. Superintendent of the district Janet Schultze claimed that the lawsuit overlooks the progress that has been made in the district over the years in closing achievement gaps, but the ACLU lawsuit claims that the district has not yet adopted a sufficient number of initiatives to combat achievement gaps.
Despite the growing racial disparity in American education systems, establishment media have yet to discuss the newly-filed suit and bring attention to the unjust system in the Bay Area. The establishment press is treating instances like these as discrete and isolated events with no systematic connections as there is also little to no coverage on related issues. The Washington Post recently published an article discussing a similar issue in Washington, D.C., where incarcerated students with learning disabilities are being academically discriminated against, however, that is the extent of establishment press coverage on the topic.
Source: Carolyn Jones, “ACLU sues Bay Area school district over ‘separate, unequal and illegal’ special education program,’ Ed Source, September 14, 2021.
Student Researchers: Kaitlyn Gilmartin, Anna Belle Murray, and Sarah Walsh (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)