ACLU files discrimination lawsuit against Visalia Unified

Vanessa Vasconcelos Image
Thursday, October 25, 2018
ACLU files discrimination lawsuit against Visalia Unified
In the 23 page document, the ACLU describes several accounts from African American students saying they faced discrimination, racial bias and hostile environments on and off campus

Visalia Unified is responding after the ACLU filed a discrimination complaint, against the district, on behalf of African American students.

In a 23 page document, the ACLU brings allegations of discrimination, racial bias and fostering racially hostile environments against Visalia Unified School District.

The Discrimination complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights describes several student accounts of racial harassment taking place either on campus or on social media.

"It's sad that in 2018 black students have to endure things like threats based on their race," said Abre Conner who is a Staff Attorney at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California.

Conner says the students involved want to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.

She adds this isn't the first time the ACLU has notified the district about racism. In 2017, a Confederate flag was hung in a La Hoya Middle School classroom.

Later that year, the same symbol was worn by a Redwood High School student which prompted the district to look at both dress code and conduct policy change.

"Those incidents are what heightened our awareness that we had work to do," said Visalia Unified Superintendent Dr. Todd Oto.

"We spent months talking with the district to put in place tangible next steps to make sure students felt protected," said Conner.

The complaint outlines several recommendations the district can change to create a safe and welcoming environment.

Superintendent Dr. Oto says the district is working on creating task forces at the student, staff and community level to make sure these needs are met. He says training could happen as early as the end of the school year.

"We knew there was a disproportionate rate for suspension with African American kids and the hostile environment is something we need to address more closely we need to listen to kids we need to encourage kids to come forward so we can address these issues," said Superintendent Dr. Oto.

"Now is the time for Visalia Unified to stand up for black students and make sure black students feel safe and welcome in their environment," said Conner.

In order for the school district to continue to receive federal funding, they must comply with civil rights laws in place.

But they say they're on board, even welcoming the outside input.