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EGUSD Under Scrutiny Over Treatment Of Black Students, Family Files Civil Rights Complaint

EGUSD Under Scrutiny Over Treatment Of Black Students, Family Files Civil Rights Complaint
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Image courtesy of Elk Grove Unified School District

Elk Grove Unified School District (EGUSD) is making headlines again over its treatment of Black students. Katherine L. Albiani Middle School is under scrutiny for alleged racial profiling, and questioning the sexual orientation of a 12-year-old black student.

Following the incident, a formal civil rights complaint was filed demanding that the Principal, Brie Bajar, and Vice-Principal, Kristen Couchot, be removed from their positions. Furthermore, Couchot is the daughter of EGUSD Board Trustee Carmine Forcina, a known fact and conflict of interest that has raised questions from parents, and advocates during school board meetings.

What We Know

On September 20, the honor-roll student was banned from dressing in the girls locker room. She was not in violation of any Educational codes or Physical Education syllabus rules that would warrant disciplinary action. Consequently, the only options she had were the bathroom or outside. The nearest bathroom was occupied and dirty, so the student felt forced to undress outside on the blacktop in public view. After telling her parents what happened that day, they immediately took action.

Moreover, after repeated demands to allow their daughter equal access to the locker room were ignored, Director of Secondary Education, Dr. Amy Besler overturned the decisions made by school officials, and reversed the ban within 24 hours. No further action was taken, however, to reprimand school officials. Following the reversal of the ban, the student said she was harassed by school administrators.

The parents, Charles and Heather Washington, feel that the school should be held accountable for the trauma this has caused their daughter. They asked about a school safety plan but to no avail. Additionally, they made demands for all school personnel involved, especially Bajar and Couchot, to be reprimanded accordingly.

Additionally, the Washingtons have reached out to other school officials and EGUSD board members, but so far they are not getting the answers that they need.

Black Youth Leadership Project

In search of support, the Washingtons reached out to the Black Youth Leadership Project (BYLP). Established in 1999, BYLP is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to “developing California’s next generation of public policy leaders”.

BYLP advocates primarily for Elk Grove’s Black students disproportionately targeted by the District for suspension, racial harassment and discrimination. After receiving the initial complaint, BYLP filed a Cease and Desist on September 28.

BYLP urges families who have been victimized by EGUSD staff to file a complaint on the EGUSD website.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is bylp_logo-copy-1024x861-2.png
Image courtesy of Black Youth Leadership Project

“The School Failed to Protect our Daughter”

On October 5, the family went public at an EGUSD board meeting. The Washingtons’ full recounting of their daughter’s mistreatment since the incident went viral.

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“My daughter was humiliated, and degraded.”

-Heather Washington, Mother

At this time, EGUSD has yet to take action against school administrators. Also, no action was taken during the meeting, or after they met with Director of Secondary Education, Dr. Amy Besler demanding that the Vice Principal and Principal be terminated from The District.

The Washington’s also have emails documenting evidence that the District falsified discipline records retroactively, and lied about relationships the Board had with the Vice Principal Couchot and Principal Bajar.

A Father’s Testimony

Mr. Washington spoke at the December 14 EGUSD board meeting, and spoke about how angry he is with Superintendent, Chris Hoffman.

Hoffman promised to be in contact with the family after learning about the incident, but has yet to follow through.

Washington’s passionate testimony about his daughter also went viral on social media.

“Mona Lisa, my perfect art, that I and her mom have painted with the perfect brushes, and we might allow family members and what not to paint on it because we know they are not going to put graffiti on it but Kathleen Albiani Middle School, that’s what they attempted to do. They attempted to put graffiti on my perfect art.”

– Charles Washington, father of student involved.

Finally, mother, Heather Washtington gave her testimony.

“No child, no matter their color, race or sexuality should ever have to undress outside and be exposed not only in front of other kids but adults as well. The principal and vice-principal at Katherine Albiani put our daughter’s physical safety, emotional, and psychological safety at risk, and still have not been held accountable for their actions.”

– Heather Washtington, mother of student involved

EGUSD Releases Statement

On Thursday, Elk Grove Unified School District released the below statement. These statements are responses to inquiries regarding the relationship between EGUSD Board Trustee Forcina, and Vice-Principal Couchot:

Student complaints and personnel matters are confidential and no additional information can be shared by the District regarding a particular complaint and investigation.

The District takes seriously and investigates employee complaints consistent with law and board policy. Based upon the findings of an investigation, and if warranted, the District takes appropriate action.

School board members have a constitutional right to freedom of speech and association. The District has no jurisdiction or knowledge regarding the friends of Board members. If a future matter before the School District’s Board of Education involves a board member’s relative, the board member is required by law to abstain from any discussion or action regarding that matter.

Neither law nor policy prohibit the District’s employment of board member relatives. Nonetheless, Board members are required by law to abstain from discussion and action that may uniquely address their relative. This would include any employment action. Specifically, EGUSD Administrative Regulation 4112.8, EGUSD Board Bylaw 9270, and California Education section 35107 direct board members to abstain from acting on matters uniquely involving a relative. Further, Board Bylaw 9200 provides the following: “Individual members of the Board, by virtue of holding office, shall not exercise any administrative responsibility with respect to the schools or command the services of any school employee.” With regard to Ms. Couchot, she is a relative of Mr. Forcina.

Based upon these provisions, if there is a future Board agenda item that specifically addresses an individual board member’s relative, such board member must abstain from participating in any way regarding any board discussion or action that may uniquely affect the employee who is the board member’s relative.

-EGUSD

Number One In The State

EGUSD is still number one in the state for disproportionately disciplining Black students compared to other races. The long history of complaints by Black students and parents continue to grow. For many years, local youth advocacy groups have been raising concerns.

Read our recent report Elk Grove Unified School District Urged To Act In Support Of Black Students. According to Suspending Our Future: How Inequitable Disciplinary Practices Disenfranchise Black Kids In California’s Public Schools, Black students have historically been the target of punitive policies and EGUSD leads the state of CA for Disproportionate Discipline.

Elk Grove Tribune follows EGUSD Board news, including incidents of alleged racial profiling against students.

This is a developing story.

About The Author

Lisa Stanley

Lisa Stanley is an auditor, business owner, and a local organizer. She inspires and empowers women through fitness to find their inner and outer strength by focusing on the mind and body.

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