Nation’s Top Civil Rights Leaders Send Letter to Gov. Jerry Brown: Time Is Now to End School Suspension Gap

For immediate release
August 15, 2013
For More Information Contact:
Michael Soller, Public Counsel (213) 637-3821 / (213) 446-1851 cell

CALIFORNIA – Civil rights leaders are saying the time is now to close the divide in California out-of-school suspensions for students of color and students with disabilities.

The nation’s top civil rights leaders from across the country signed a letter to California Gov. Jerry Brown urging him to stand with them in addressing the inequities in school discipline and sign Assembly Bill 420, authored by Assembly Member Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento). AB 420 would help ensure that out-of-school suspension is a measure of last resort in response to minor offenses, and will eliminate disruption/willful defiance as a ground for expulsion for all grades and as grounds for suspension for our youngest children in grades K-5.

Statewide data shows that black students receive 7.7 more suspensions per 100 students than white students, and students with disabilities receive 3.3 more suspensions per 100 students than students without disabilities.

In some school districts the racial gaps are much greater. For example, in Coalinga-Huron Joint Unified District in 2011-12, the rates for disruption/defiance are 44 out-of-school suspensions per 100 enrolled blacks students, 27 per hundred Latino students and 16 per hundred white students.

“Children should not be suspended from school based on the color of their skin or what zip code they come from,” said Rev. Jesse Jackson, one of the letter’s signers. “Education is their best hope. We need to lift our children up, not lock them up, not throw them away. Every day that we allow a student of color or a student with disabilities to be locked out of school, we take a step back as a nation. We must be better than that.”

“Disparities in the imposition of school discipline for students of color and students with disabilities are part of the school to prison pipeline,” said Eva Paterson, president of the Equal Justice Society. “Making school discipline more fair is a major civil rights challenge for the 21st century. Assembly Bill 420 will be an important step toward equal treatment for all California students.”

“We may continue to talk about education as the great equalizer, but when it comes to pushing children out of school we are failing Black children most, especially Black males. Suspensions for minor infractions have an enormous negative impact on children,” said Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund. “Suspensions for willful defiance are failing our students, and schools that do it deserve a failing grade and correction right now.”

“The state numbers only tell half of the story of profound injustice found at the local levels along the lines of race and disability status,” said Dan Losen, Director, Center for Civil Rights Remedies, The Civil Rights Project at UCLA. “Local control should not be allowed to trump the need for state action when schools and districts suspend children of color and students with disabilities at incredibly high rates in the most subjective and minor offense category of disruption and willful defiance.”

“With all the positive changes happening in California schools under Gov. Brown’s leadership, we shouldn’t stand by as some students lose ground and others surge ahead,” said Hernán Vera, President and CEO of Public Counsel and a co-sponsor of AB 420. “In California and across the country, students of color are substantially more likely to be suspended for subjective conduct like ‘willful defiance,’ but that disparity is greatly reduced for clearly defined offenses,” said Dennis Parker, Director of the ACLU National’s Racial Justice Program. “Legislation like AB 420 is critical to stopping the revolving door from the school house to the jail house that currently exists when so many students are being excluded in our urban and minority schools.”

The letter states: “[G]iven the civil rights implications of frequently suspending these subgroups, we believe that objections to these proposed limits based on deference to local control are unjustified. Local control has historically been an obstacle to civil rights protections…. Ultimately, signing AB 420 into law will translate into higher achievement and improved graduation rates for all children, but especially help the subgroups that are too often entirely excluded from school because of minor school code infractions.”

The letter to Gov. Jerry Brown was signed by:  

  • Reverend Jesse L. Jackson
  • Eva Paterson, President, Equal Justice Society
  • Cruz Reynoso
  • Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., Director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice
  • Dennis Parker, ACLU National’s Racial Justice Director
  • Chris Edley, Jr., Dean of UC Berkeley School of Law and Director of the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute
  • Barbara Arnwine, President and Executive Director, Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
  • Dan Losen, Director, Center for Civil Rights Remedies, Civil Rights Project at UCLA
  • Susan Henderson, Executive Director of Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
  • Hernán Vera, President and CEO, Public Counsel
  • Thomas Saenz, President and General Counsel, MALDEF
  • Dolores Huerta, President, Dolores Huerta Foundation
  • Marian Wright Edelman, President, Children’s Defense Fund
  • John Jackson, President, Schott Foundation
  • Hector Villagra, Executive Director, ACLU of Southern California
  • Abdi Soltani, Executive Director, ACLU of Northern California
  • Jennifer Rodriguez, Executive Director, Youth Law Center
  • Paula Pearlman, Executive Director, Disability Rights Legal Center
  • Stewart Koh, Co-Founder and President, Asian Pacific American Legal Center
  • John O’Toole, Director, National Center for Youth Law
  • Professor John C. Brittain, David A. Clarke School of Law
  • Sherrilyn A. Ifill, President and Director-Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Studies show that just one out of school suspension make it five times more likely that a child will drop-out of school and three times that a student will end up in the juvenile justice system, within the same year. AB 420 encourages the use of research-proven alternatives that keep students in school and support healthy behavior, increased academic achievement, and positive school climates for all students.


About Fix School Discipline:’s 23 partner groups include law enforcement, civil rights organizations, parents groups and children’s advocates. is a project of Public Counsel, the not for profit law firm that is a statewide education rights leader.