LANCASTER – State funds intended for the Antelope Valley’s low-income high school students, English learners, and foster youth—most of them Black and Latinx—are going unspent or being used in ways that further marginalize these students, according to a complaint filed Wednesday against the Antelope Valley Union High School District. [View it here.]
The complaint was submitted by Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County on behalf of AVUHSD parent Diana Padilla, and Equal Justice Society on behalf of Cancel the Contract-Antelope Valley, a project of Reform LA Jails.
The complaint claims AVUHSD failed to comply with legal requirements governing school spending plans—known as Local Control Accountability Plans. According to the complaint, in the 2019-2020 school year alone, more than $6.9 million intended for low-income students, English learners, and foster youth was left unused or was used for improper purposes, with minimal reporting and seemingly no oversight.
“This is particularly egregious in a school district known for criminalizing high-needs students instead of helping them to learn,” said Chelsea Helena, an attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County.
According to the complaint, AVUHSD allocated $1.7 million in funds intended for low-income students, English learners, and foster youth to pay for a contract with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department but failed to describe how increased enforcement would serve these students.
“As research and data consistently show, the presence of law enforcement is not effective in improving school climate or students’ sense of safety. In fact, evidence shows that the presence of law enforcement on school campuses disproportionately harms the high-needs students of color who are supposed to benefit…” the complaint states.
“This is funding that was supposed to undo some of the historic harms that have for decades left these students at a severe disadvantage, specifically for our foster youth, English learners, and low-income students – this is unacceptable,” said Cancel the Contract AV Campaign Coordinator, Christian Green. “The AV needs to reinvest in care and not incarceration. The time for change is now.”
After filing the complaint on Wednesday, Feb. 9, Cancel the Contract: AV Coalition members joined more than 60 high school students and parents for a rally outside Antelope Valley High School. The group marched to the AVUHSD Headquarters, where students, parents and community members shared their testimonies and experiences.
“My involvement as a parent has come to the point that the administration feels the need to intimidate me with the use of an onsite LA Sheriff Resource officer, as it occurred this past September 10, 2021. The fear of intimidation and retaliation is the reason why other parents do not return to be involved in their children’s education,” Padilla said.
“The Antelope Valley Union High School District receives millions of these dollars every year and it’s their responsibility to tell you all how to spend this money and what they are going to do with it but the district we know did not do that,” said Legal Director of the Equal Justice Society Mona Tawatao. “Let’s focus on accountability because this district is anything but accountable.”
The complaint demands AVUHSD investigate budget discrepancies, adhere to state-mandated reporting requirements, and require each school to clearly demonstrate how supplemental and concentration grant (S&C) funds are used to serve the high-needs students for whom they were allocated.
Although the complaint focuses on the Antelope Valley, the group says a lack of oversight has allowed districts across the state to use the funds in ways that do not benefit–and sometimes harm–the very students they are intended to help.
“There are more than one thousand districts in California, and they receive this funding based on the number of high-needs students in their care,” said Equal Justice Society attorney Alexandra Santa Ana. “But a systemic lack of transparency has allowed them to essentially hide what they are doing with these critical funds and deprive high needs students of the resources that were promised to them.”
Representatives from Antelope Valley Union High School District could not be reached for comment Thursday.