Setting New Policies to Stem Racial Profiling in Fairfield Schools

By: ACLU of Northern California

"We didn't do anything wrong," said Victor Lopez, one of the Latino students at Rodriquez High School (RHS) who in March 2007 were lined up in front of their peers, accused of being gang members, and photographed by Fairfield police. "I was just talking to my friends. The police shouldn't assume we're gang members just because we're Latino and wearing certain colors. Lots of kids were wearing the same thing we were on that day and nothing happened to them."

In fact, Victor and the other students who were detained had nothing to do with gangs, and neither police nor school officials, one of whom witnessed the events, had any evidence that they did. Nonetheless, the youths were humiliated, traumatized, and became afraid of being mistakenly targeted as "gang" associates by their peers.

Targeted Students Feel Less Motivated in School

"It was embarrassing," said then-sophomore Rosa Mares, "I felt afraid to go to school after that." In addition, many of the students involved said they felt less motivated at school.

That's exactly what happens in the phenomenon the ACLU of Northern California is referring to as "bias and pushout," in which youths, often students of color, LGBTQ students, students with disabilities, and other vulnerable youth are targeted, isolated, and eventually pushed out of comprehensive schools, often into the criminal justice system.

Families Take Immediate Action

Luckily, the families of the ten students targeted at RHS refused to let stand the discrimination and harassment their children suffered. After getting an inadequate response from school officials, who are legally obligated to intervene when discrimination and harassment are brought to their attention, the parents contacted the ACLU of Northern California.

The result was a settlement with the city creating police department policies that help maintain a safe and respectful learning environment in district schools. The settlement sets clear standards for when police can and cannot photograph, search, or question students on campus or school events. All Fairfield police officers were trained in the new policies, which prohibit racial profiling, and students were given materials outlining their rights when interacting with police.

In addition, the Fairfield police chief and the high school principal sent an open letter to the school community clearing the targeted students of any wrongdoing, and all photographs and information collected during the incident were destroyed.

The ACLU of Northern California hopes the settlement will serve as a model for other school districts in the state.