ACLU Complaint Charges Discrimination against NorCal Native American Students 

By Kevin Barragan 

SAN FRANCISO, CA  – The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California has filed a complaint with the U.S Department of Education for Civil Rights charging discriminatory acts toward Native American students with disabilities in Humboldt County.

The complaint states, “Tribal Council of the Bear River Band brings this complaint due to continuous discrimination on the basis of race/ethnicity and disability by the Loleta Union School District.”

Once the complaint was filed, the U.S Department of Education Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation on the Loleta Union School District about the matter, said the ACLU, noting additional troubling acts have been revealed.

ACLU’s complaint explains, “Loleta Elementary employees have used racial slurs towards indigenous students and have engaged in disparate discipline of Indigenous students.”

The ACLU said, “Rather than modifying disciplinary policies and practices as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, Loleta Elementary staff routinely punish disabled students for behaviors arising from their disabilities. Students who exhibit behaviors that are manifestations of their disabilities are often removed from classrooms and denied critical learning time.”

“Indigenous students with and without disabilities face disproportionately higher rates of exclusionary discipline, chronic absenteeism, and lower academic outcomes than their non-Indigenous peers. These disparities are particularly egregious in Humboldt County,” the ACLU complaint details.

The ACLU cites a 2020 report authored by the ACLU titled, Failing Grade: The Status of Native American Education in Humboldt County, which “found that Indigenous students in Humboldt County, including in Loleta USD, face vast disparities in academic outcomes,” said the ACLU.

“These negative outcomes are a direct result of systemic failures that cause Indigenous students to feel disengaged and unwelcome at school, such as bullying and racially hostile school environments; disparate use of disciplinary practices such as suspension, expulsion, and referrals to law enforcement; and failure to provide school-based student supports, including culturally relevant school-based mental health professionals,” the complaint noted.

“Explicit and implicit racism affects students’ vision of themselves and their futures. Being subjected to racist remarks and stereotypes at school negatively impacts educational outcomes for our native youth,” said Darrell Sherman, Council Member of the Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria.

He added, “We need to tell kids they are doing a good job; tell them they are going to succeed—and treat them accordingly. We all have a role in building up and protecting the youth in our community.”

The ACLU explained the Humboldt County Office of Education “provided a part-time School Psychologist and School Climate Director at Loleta Elementary to help to address discrimination experienced by Indigenous families and to create a more inclusive school culture.

“Unfortunately, the District failed to fill that position when it became vacant earlier this year. The absence of an effective School Climate Director has exacerbated much of the discrimination and harassment experienced by Indigenous students and their families.”

“With the departure of the previous Superintendent and previous School Climate Director, the situation at Loleta Elementary has rapidly spiraled out of control, and the district is failing to take reasonable action to remedy or stop ongoing serious legal violations,” said Linnea Nelson, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California.

Nelson added, “Indigenous students and students with disabilities are suffering at Loleta Elementary School because of employees’ discrimination against them. Robust corrective action is urgently needed.”

“The Bear River Band is committed to challenging historic inequities on behalf of its members and all Indigenous students,” said Josefina Frank, Chairwoman of the Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria.

“Remedying unlawful discrimination is essential to provide Indigenous students at Loleta with equal educational opportunities so they can further their education and achieve professional success,” Frank added.

About The Author

Kevin Barragan is a first-generation senior at California State University, Los Angeles majoring in political science with an emphasis in prelegal studies and minoring in criminal justice. He plans to attend law school after undergrad in hopes to pursue a law career in advocating for social and civil rights.

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