The Elk Grove school board on Nov. 13 approved a policy on what school administrators can do to address alleged student misconduct.

Several community members and activists worked with Elk Grove Unified School District officials and staff on drafting the policy.

Throughout this year, the activists stated that law enforcement officers were inappropriately used to handle student cases, particularly those involving African American students.

School Trustee Chet Madison, who served in the policy’s committee, thanked his fellow group members for having “courageous conversations” with the district staff.

“This is not the end of this type of work, it’s ongoing,” he said.

Principals and vice principals are now undergoing training on student discipline guidelines.  

These changes were inspired by an incident last year where Mechale Murphy, the principal of Zehnder Ranch Elementary School, protested the staff treatment of her son at Cosumnes Oaks High School.

She said that school administrators, not law enforcement officers, should handle low-level student offenses.

Murphy asked the school board to reform how schools discipline students.

“These policies would demonstrate to the community that our focus is on educating all Elk Grove students, and not using our discipline system as a pipeline to the correctional system,” she said during the board’s Nov. 7, 2017 meeting.

District officials this year met her request by forming a team of administrators, educators, and activists to create the new policy.

Some of the activists belong to the group, The Village, and have often raised concerns about the treatment of African American students at Elk Grove Unified’s schools.

“I will say that a true depiction of us being heard is action on the ground,” said Allegra Taylor, a member of The Village who was involved in drafting the new policy.

Under the new board policy, school administrators, rather than law enforcement officers, are asked to investigate student behavior.

School staff must notify a student’s parent if they want to get law enforcement involved in a discipline case. They can notify law enforcement if a student commits a violent offense, threatens violence, or carries an illegal item such as a weapon.

Law enforcement officers will also not be involved in interviews between administrators and students. Officers are asked to avoid removing students from campuses during lunch or passing periods when many students are outside.

The district staff must also provide an annual report on the number of times that law enforcement officers visit the schools as well as the race or ethnicity of students involved in discipline cases.

Murphy told the school board on Nov. 13 that she was pleased with the new policy.

“It is a direct move by the district to avoid the use of our schools as a gateway to the criminal justice system,” she said.

Madison called her a hero.

“You were the courageous hero for not only your son, but future children in the district, particularly African Americans,” he said.

School Trustee Tony Perez mentioned that many community members have asked them what he and his board are doing to address “horrific incidents and hate crimes.” Tension arose on the school board when he accused members of not liking to address racism.  

“People on this board don’t like to talk about racism that exists in our community,” Perez said. “It’s sad. I try to do that and I get shot down.”

School Trustee Bobbie Singh-Allen gave a rebuttal.

“That is absolutely a false statement,” she said. “I have no problem having those courageous conversations because that’s where solutions occur. By the way, this is an agenda item; therefore, we’re talking about it on an ongoing basis.”

Parents accuse school staff of misconduct

Earlier in the school board meeting, several African American parents said their children were mistreated by teachers and administrators at schools across the district. Several believed their children experienced racial discrimination.

Under district policy, trustees could not respond to them since the parents spoke during the meeting’s public comment period.

Loreen Pryor, a member of The Village and the Black Youth Leadership Project, said that she visited several district schools after hearing about student mistreatment there. She noted an anti-bullying video that was made by students and played at the board meeting that night.

“We put a lot of stuff on the kids, but we never talk about the adult responsibility,” Pryor said.

Rona Wilkins told the school board that a student called her son racial slurs at Morse Elementary School. She said that the bully is an “identified sexual predator,” and shared her frustration about school officials not addressing the situation.

“If you’re not doing your job, you shouldn’t be up there,” Wilkins said.

District spokesperson Xanthi Pinkerton later told the Citizen that she cannot share information on the accused student since the district keeps student matters confidential.

She said that district staff investigated Wilkins’s claims about the student and “took appropriate action.”

An incident occurred at Cosumnes Oaks High School on Nov. 1 where law enforcement officers were called to the campus due to a fight involving three students. Two school employees were taken to a local hospital after they intervened.

School officials said that law enforcement was called to help clear up the large crowd of students who watched the incident. A Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department helicopter reportedly arrived to the scene.

Marche Williams, the mother of a student involved in the case, spoke to the school board on Nov. 13. She recalled that she was concerned that her daughter would get into an altercation with a classmate.

Williams said that a vice principal assured her there would be a “safety plan” for her daughter. The altercation later broke out on campus.

Williams said that school staff and security guards used unnecessary force to detain her daughter – one placed her in a headlock. She said that her daughter is now up for expulsion.

“There is a plethora of children who look like me who are being targeted and treated unfairly, and I think it is time for things to change,” said Williams, who is African American.

Dexter Powe, a Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy, last month protested a district investigation of his claims that a supervisor discriminated against him and his fellow African American officers at Sheldon High School. He also claimed that unqualified employees were allowed to carry firearms on campus.

Powe returned to the board during their Nov. 13 meeting and said there still has not been a district inquiry into his claims.

Pinkerton earlier told the Citizen that Powe’s allegation about illegally armed employees is incorrect.