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Concerns raised over disproportionate discipline for African-American students at Elk Grove Unified

Charles Washington and Heather Morris-Washington say their 12-year-old daughter is suffering from anxiety after she was unfairly targeted by school administrators

By Luke Cleary

ELK GROVE, Calif. — Parents have been raising concerns over disproportionate discipline for African-American students at Elk Grove Unified School District.

It comes after a February report by the Black Minds Matter Coalition, “Suspending our Future,” which singled out the school district for suspending Black students at a higher rate than any other in California.

While their daughter wasn’t suspended, Charles Washington and Heather Washington-Morris said their 12-year-old student was unfairly targeted after an incident in an Albiani Middle School locker room in August.

The Washingtons say the school never called to explain why. As discipline, the girl was banned from changing there for gym class, and was forced to change in the bathroom instead. On Tuesday, with the locker room off-limits and the bathroom filled with other students, the girl felt she had no other choice but to change outside the locker room on the blacktop.

“She has expressed a lot of anxiety in general,” said Morris-Washington, who added that her daughter was now seeking counseling and would change schools after the end of the semester.

Washington also called attention to the issue.

“You’ve gone from a star student, which is still a star, but you’re unnecessarily being harassed. And then as a father, you can’t even imagine how I feel," Washington said.

The Black Youth Leadership Project's Lorreen Pryor said Black students at Elk Grove Unified often face steeper punishments for the same infractions as other students.

"For the longest time, we’ve been being told that there’s not a problem, that they’re doing so much better, that the numbers are not the real numbers. But people lie. Numbers don’t," she said.

Meanwhile, Elk Grove Unified School District spokesperson Xanthi Soriano said the district is aligning practices like school suspensions with "new thinking" to reduce disproportionality and the total number of suspensions.

"We definitely recognize and accept the challenges it takes to address disproportionate discipline in our schools," Soriano said.

Still, the Washingtons feel what happened to their daughter had something to do with her race.

"What I see is there’s no empathy for the Black child. There’s no empathy, and I think that’s a big word," Washington said.

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