Civil rights groups celebrate Kern High School District lawsuit settlement

KHSD to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlement

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - During a news conference at the Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, Inc. office local attorneys and civil rights groups celebrated the end of a legal battle that started three years ago.

"This is a major victory for the parents and the students of the Kern High School District," proclaimed Dolores Huerta of the Dolores Huerta Foundation.

This all over the settlement of Sanders v Kern High School District, a 2014 lawsuit that claimed KHSD disproportionately suspended and expelled Latino and African-American students for years.

KHSD will pay $600,000 for attorney's fees of the plaintiffs and $70,000 for education funds for 14 student plaintiffs. 

KHSD admitted no wrongdoing, though it acknowledged historically these minority students had disproportionate suspensions and expulsions in the district.

We asked if these groups believed the district intentionally discriminated against students.

"I think there are some people in the district who do think that African-American and Latino people are inferior. I think they are the minority of the people in the district, but we'd be big liars if we stood up here and said everybody is into 'we shall overcome,'" said Eva Paterson of the Equal Justice Society.

"I just want to be clear that the Kern High School District has never intentionally discriminated against any students," said KHSD Associate Superintendent Dr. Brenda Lewis.

Lewis defended the district, saying it only settled due to the rising cost of the lawsuit.

"Even if we prevailed in the end, which we believed we probably would have, we wouldn't have been able to recoup any of the attorneys fees," explained Lewis.

Lewis added aside from the $40,000 cost of new consultants hired to train teachers, staff, and police in racial bias, this settlement will likely have minimal impact on the district.

As part of the settlement, the district will also hold bi-annual community forums focused on student behavior and school climate.

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