Overturning School Expulsions

By: ACLU of Northern California

The rights of two African-American students were violated by the Antioch Unified School District when it expelled them from Deer Valley High School following an off-campus incident in which police officers pepper-sprayed the students and forcefully arrested them, a judge ruled in May 2008. The judge overturned the expulsions.

"No student deserves to be treated in the manner that these students were treated by the school district and by the police," said Greta Hansen of the ACLU of Northern California. "The court's ruling sends a message to school districts about the limits of district authority to punish students for conduct with no legitimate connection to school."

Suspensions and Expulsions Often Push Students to Drop out

It is well-documented that African-American students are suspended or expelled and transferred to other schools at higher rates and for more minor offenses than their peers, effectively pushing them out of traditional comprehensive schools.

"Research has consistently demonstrated that students who are suspended or expelled from school are far more likely to drop out than their peers. Dropping out, in turn, strongly increases the likelihood that a student will end up involved in the criminal justice system," said Hansen. "Unnecessary and unlawful expulsions such as these have serious negative consequences not only for the individual students affected by them, but for society at large."

Minor Incident

The minor incident leading to the case occurred on March 7, 2007, when three students were walking through the parking lot of Deer Valley Plaza, a local shopping center. They were stopped by an officer with the Antioch Police Department, who accused them of blocking traffic by walking through the parking lot rather than on the sidewalk. After a second encounter with the officer, one student ran away, and the officer gave chase, holding a canister of pepper spray in his hand.

The officer and others who joined him apprehended the student at a nearby gas station, where they pepper-sprayed him, threw him to the ground, and forcefully arrested him. They also pepper-sprayed and forcefully arrested several other students, some of whom were just bystanders.

School Resource Officer Involved

Among the officers involved in the incident was the campus police officer, or school resource officer, assigned to Deer Valley High School, who is an employee of the Antioch Police Department.

In June 2007, the Antioch school board voted to expel the seven students–all African-American.

Three of the students appealed their expulsions to the Contra Costa County Board of Education. The board reversed the expulsion of one of the students, but upheld expulsions of two others. The ACLU brought suit in Contra Costa County Superior Court on behalf of the two students whose appeals were denied.