Grossmont Union High School District is still expelling black students at significantly higher rates than other school districts, new data shows.
Grossmont officials have pledged to reduce the district’s overall expulsion rate by 2020, but have so far not acknowledged problems in their expulsion rate for black students.
Data released by the California Department of Education show that while the county’s expulsion rates are continuing to drop — likely because of an increased focus on restorative justice practices — Grossmont is nowhere near meeting its goal.
For the 2018-19 school year, the district expelled black students at nine times the average expulsion rate for black students countywide. During the three previous school years, Grossmont’s expulsion rate for black students was at least six times the county average.
Grossmont’s expulsion rate for black students actually went down slightly in the 2018-19 school year to 1.46 percent. But it was still far above the county average of .16 percent.
Francine Maxwell, the vice president of the San Diego NAACP branch, called the numbers “historic” and said Grossmont’s staff has long lacked diversity and cultural sensitivity.
“There has not been a single year in which we have not seen complaints from that school district,” Maxwell said. “Only after you seek help and you know that you’re doing something wrong is when you want to change your behavior. That is the issue with (Grossmont). They don’t think that they’re doing anything wrong nor do they want to change their behavior because they don’t admit to anything.”
Grossmont officials declined to comment.
Many school districts across the country expel black students at a higher rate than white students – which experts say contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline. What makes Grossmont’s situation unique is that its expulsion rate for black students is much higher than the expulsion rate for other black students in surrounding school districts.
White students at Grossmont were expelled at a rate of .37 percent – four times less often than black students.
Grossmont officials have previously argued that its expulsion rate should not be compared against the county average, since it is a high school-only school district.
But when comparing Grossmont against the five other high school districts in the county, it actually does worse. (No black students attend Julian Union High School District, according to state data.) The other high school districts expelled no black students, whatsoever.
Only Sweetwater Union High School District has a comparable percentage of black students to Grossmont. But Sweetwater also expelled no black students.
On the whole, Grossmont uses expulsion as a tool far more than other districts. Grossmont makes up only 4 percent of the county’s school population yet accounts for 28 percent of all expulsions.
Maxwell said Grossmont has been neglecting its expulsion problem for years.
“We’re not new to this and neither is Grossmont and they have yet to talk about implicit bias training, trauma informed care,” she said.
Mohamed Abdi, a researcher at the Community College Equity Assessment Lab and grad student at San Diego State University, said he was not surprised at the data, since Grossmont has historically expelled more black students than other districts.
“This [new] data shows us that the district doesn’t care.” Abdi said. “They know about us and report this data, and they chose not to do anything about it.”
Three years ago, the district acknowledged its high expulsion rate in a legally required Local Control Accountability Plan, and set a goal of reducing it to below 0.2 percent by the year 2020.
Grossmont’s overall expulsion rate for 2018-19 was .5 percent. It will need to cut its numbers by more than half to meet its goal in 2020.
Abdi said that implicit bias training on a consistent level combined with a diversified staff would be a good step in improving Grossmont’s numbers, but that can’t happen until the administration really steps up to solve the problem.
“Ultimately the district just doesn’t care for black students, that’s just the reality,” Abdi said. “No achievement is made when students are being suspended or expelled.”
Both Maxwell and Abdi said their respective organizations are ready to work with the district and lend their resources to establish regularly scheduled implicit bias and microaggression workshops.
“They need to take ownership of their numbers. No more sugar-coating and no more denial,” Maxwell said. “We can only help those who want to help themselves, and they have yet to be honest that they want help.”
Correction: An earlier version of this piece misidentified the institution where Mohamed Abdi works as a researcher.