Parents, Advocates Criticize Elk Grove Unified For Racial Discrimination Towards African-American Students

Dominique Jones telling the Elk Grove Unified School District Board of Trustees that the community will "no longer accept head nods ...

Dominique Jones telling the Elk Grove Unified School District Board of Trustees that the community
will "no longer accept head nods and lip service."

May 21, 2018 |

Although the traditional school year schedule is quickly winding down, for the Trustees of the Elk Grove Unified School District, questions that have dogged them all year are persisting. This was made evident at the Tuesday, May 15 board meeting when several members of the public voiced their concerns about what they characterize as racial discrimination at district schools.

The most recent incident that drew the comments happened at Cosumnes Oaks High School (COHS) where community members claimed an African-American male student was unfairly treated based on his race. The event was also commented on during the Tuesday, May 1, by the student's mother, Leslie Cannon.

Speaking to the district at the May 1 meeting, Cannon said her son was forced to confess to the theft of earbuds or be immediately placed in custody. Cannon asserted at the time that not only was her son not guilty of the accusations, that he was unfairly targeted based on race. 

Among the nine people who spoke on this and other race-related issues was Cannon. In her comments said she, her son Julian recently met with staff and the student resource officer who made the threats and characterized the officer's behavior as hostile.

"Every time we begin to speak, and we were speaking truthfully, he began to interrupt, continually, " Cannon said. "Each time he did he was sweating like crazy, red-faced, he was very arrogant." 

Cannon said she disagreed with the officer, identified by other speakers during the meeting as Mark Francis, on his assertion that her son was read his Miranda rights and also permitted a phone call if he indeed had been placed under arrest.  The officer, according to Cannon said during their meeting "'I can do what I want to do.'"

While the conversation started with Cannon's son, Mechale Murphy, who is also a principal at an Elk Grove Unified School district elementary school, is another mother whose African-American student was targeted because of his race. Murphy who appeared before the trustees in November 2017, related the experience of her son, who is not attending Elk Grove High School, while he was enrolled at COHS.  

Murphy noted during her presentation that the California Department of Education agreed with her complaint that the EGUSD failed to properly investigate her claims of excessive force on her son by Francis. 

"Misconceptions are being spread about African-American males being involved in gangs in an effort to justify their mistreatment," Murphy said. "Administrators at COHS are still able to refrain from contacting parents as they allow law enforcement officers access to students over things like stolen earbuds."

Murphy also noted since the SRO's, who are deputies with the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department under contract, the EGUSD cannot investigate their actions. Furthermore, Murphy, who filed a complaint about Francis, said the district would not aid parents seeking an investigation.

"They [Sacramento County Sheriff] never received anything about my case related to my son and the excessive force used by Officer Mark Francis when he lifted my son, out of the seat, threw him across the vice principal's desk, with the vice principal present, with the vice principal confirming this, and handcuffed him," Murphy added.

For the EGUSD this latest round of racial concerns follows an event late last year that generated international attention when a Pleasant Grove High School student posted a video on social media espousing racist and hate messages. After that row, the district held a community forum in January 2018 promising to address the concerns.

Contacted via email, Board President Nancy Chaires-Espinoza said she could not address specifics of regarding Ms. Cannon's son Julian because of employee and student confidentiality protections.  Chaires-Espinoza issued a brief statement on steps the district is taking to address concerns about the interaction between students and law enforcement officers. 

The statement says "We take seriously allegations about threats to student safety, and we have been working with those involved to address their concerns. In addition, the Board of Education is developing a new board policy to better delineate the roles and responsibilities of school administrators, security staff, and school resource officers with respect to student discipline. The new policy will provide everyone with more clarity about their responsibilities, and give parents a better sense of the communication they can expect from school administrators when law enforcement has contact with students on campus."

The board subcommittee met last week, and the draft policy is in legal review. We hope to present the draft policy for public input and board discussion at our next meeting.

Several speakers who followed Cannon and Murphy addressed the broader concerns of how African-American students are unfairly treated not only at COHS, but district-wide practices as well. 

Among those commenting was Allegra Taylor who asked why there is such a strong law enforcement presence on campuses.

"Why is it that we are allowing police officers to come on campuses, and run the campuses like they're in charges," Taylor said. "We want you to hear us, and we feel like you are not taking us serious."

Another speaker who took a more direct approach with trustees was Dominque Jones who said she and others would not accept anything less than prompt action.  

"I want all of you to look me in the eye - no longer will you be able to sit up on the dais and be complacent," Jones said. "We will not settle for head nods and lip service. This is my ultimatum to you all."   

Jones closed her comments by noting that Officer Francis was in attendance at the meeting and followed Cannon and her son as they left the hearing room. 

"When is that ever acceptable," she noted. 

Extended comments can be viewed in the video below. 

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