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Kern High School District settles discrimination lawsuit

KBAK/KBFX photo, file

A group of plaintiffs on Tuesday cheered the settlement of a discrimination lawsuit against the Kern High School District as the first step in changing a school culture that they say works against minority students.

The $670,000 settlement includes a stipulation that the district continue mandatory training for all employees in Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, a set of policies that promotes identifying and addressing the root cause of a student's poor behavior.

But the district admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement, telling Eyewitness News that it simply settled to avoid the ongoing costs of litigation.

The district paid nearly $800,000 to a defense attorney and estimated a trial would've cost an additional $1 million.

"The fact that we wouldn't have been able to recoup any of the costs that we've already put into this lawsuit, it just didn't make sense to continue," said Dr. Brenda Lewis, an associate superintendent for the district.

The district doesn't dispute that minority students are suspended and expelled at rates higher than their peers but denied any link to racial bias. KHSD officials note similar discrepancies exist in school districts all over the state.

Lyndsi Andreas, an attorney with Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance Inc., was among the lawyers enlisted by the plaintiffs. She counts the required training for teachers and administrators as the biggest victory for her side.

The training will be administered by a group of consultants, half of which are chosen by the district and half of which were selected by the plaintiffs.

"We look at this, and we're really hopeful that it'll bring out a cultural change," she said. "The parts of the lawsuit we're most excited about are the other changes that will be brought to the district."

Lewis said the changes of which Andreas speaks were set in motion well before the lawsuit.

"What this agreement did, in essence, was to memorialize a lot of the things that we already had in place," she said.

Fourteen student plaintiffs in the case will each receive $5,000 academic scholarships as part of the settlement. The team of attorneys will take the remaining $600,000.

The students in the case were backed by California Rural Legal Assistance Inc., the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, GBLA, the Equal Justice Society, the Dolores Huerta Foundation, Faith in Kern, and Bay Area law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

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