SAN FRANCISCO – A Californian advocacy group has filed a lawsuit against a school district for refusing to release student arrest and citation records.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California filed the suit against the Stockton Unified School District (SUSD) in June for failure by its police department to release documentation regarding the multiple arrests it has pursued. The state law requires public release of the records, which ACLU requested earlier this year.
“We can’t speculate on why the Stockton Unified School District won’t release the public records we have requested,” Linnea Nelson, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California told the Northern California Record. “What we know is that the public has a right to know how our children are being policed. The district has to submit detailed data reports to the Federal Department of Education and to the California Department of Justice. These reports are public records, but the district has refused to allow the public to see them. The public should have access to the information in the reports, including details on how often police officers in Stockton schools are arresting students for minor misbehavior and the demographics of students who are most affected by referrals to law enforcement.”
The SUSD has identified that it has 12,000 incident reports that it generated over the last four years. ACLU is alleging that data from this time period indicates a pattern of ever-policing, which is especially harmful to students of color.
“The district has told us that it has 12,000 school police incident reports from the past four years,” said Nelson. “That is deeply troubling. We know from past data from the District Police Department that many of these 'incidents' are likely minor misbehavior that should in no way result in police involvement. Children should be educated, not incarcerated. Every student deserves an educational environment where they can thrive.”
From data it received from a request in 2012, the ACLU has concluded that the SUSD arrested black students at nearly twice the rate of their enrollment in the school district. The police department issued 2,817 citations for disturbing the peace and 1,729 citations for truancy.
“We hope to gain access to the public records about student arrests and referrals to law enforcement that the district has been trying to hide for the last several months,” said Nelson. “Stockton’s schools should be a place of learning for youth, where we prevent conflict through school counselors, not law enforcement. We hope to shine a light on school police practices in the district, and add to the robust community debate about the role of police in Stockton schools. We need to reinvest in the classroom and focus on programs that actually help students.”
ACLU is not looking for compensation through the lawsuit. It is continuing to follow its mission of enduring guardian of justice, fairness, equality and freedom.
“The ACLU is not asking for any money, nor is there any other funding we are looking to secure through this Public Records Act lawsuit,” said Nelson. “We filed this lawsuit to uphold the public’s right to know how Stockton’s children are being policed in school. We filed this lawsuit because increased police-student contact at schools has a disproportionately negative impact on students of color, LGBTQ youth, and students with disabilities. These are issues that deeply concern the ACLU. Every student deserves an educational environment where they can thrive.”