SAN FRANCISCO – The ACLU Foundation of Northern California today filed an appeal to the California Department of Education (CDE) on behalf of Kate Reza, a parent in the Novato Unified School District (NUSD) who uncovered data demonstrating that Black and Latinx students are disproportionately excluded from the San Marin High School STEM program, and that the district’s admissions process for the program perpetuates bias against students of color.
The ACLU is representing Reza under the appeal after the school district failed to adequately address the allegations that it violated civil rights laws through the discrimination that Reza identified in her December 2020 complaint.
Reza, an ecologist with a background in data analysis, came across the problematic data and admissions procedures while attempting to help her son understand why he was not admitted to the program. “My curiosity about how students are vetted for the program led me to a much larger discovery of racial and ethnic discrimination by the NUSD,” Reza said. “The district has made very public statements about its commitment to equity, but the data I analyzed does not convey that commitment.”
Among Reza’s findings are that there is significant ethnic and racial disparity for incoming freshmen to the STEM program. For example, in the 2017-2018 school year, Latinx students made up 37% of the district’s freshman population but only 3% of the STEM freshman class. In the 2020-2021 school year, Latinx students made up 30% of the San Marin High School population and only 10% of the STEM freshman class. Meanwhile, in the 2020-2021 school year, white students made up 73% of the program and only 55% of the district population.
The appeal and related complaint allege that the school district has used vague and subjective criteria for its admissions process, which allows the process to become tainted by racial and identity-based bias; that the district has failed to address the striking racial disparities in the STEM Marin Program; and that the district has funneled a disproportionate level of resources into a discriminatory program that disadvantages Latinx, Black, and low-income students.
“Across California, Black and Latinx students are disproportionately excluded from the most elite educational programs. This has lasting impacts beyond high school. It affects the colleges that they apply to and are accepted to, and the scholarships they receive,” said Linnea Nelson, Education Equity Staff Attorney at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California. “This complaint exposes one way in which those exclusionary policies are enacted through a discriminatory process that masquerades as a neutral one.”
The appeal requests that the CDE require the district to immediately change its discriminatory policies and practices in admissions to the STEM Marin Program, including its disproportionate allocation of resources to this program.
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