The expulsion of a local student has stirred up a local civil rights group, which could take the Tracy Unified School District to court if the district refuses to let the girl back in.
Bobby Bivens, president of the Stockton branch of the NAACP, attended the disciplinary hearings for Naeemah Alhark, who until Tuesday night was a student at Williams Middle School. The school board voted Tuesday to expel her for her role in a fight at the school on April 25.
Bivens said he will investigate the suspension and also the way students at Williams are disciplined. He said the NAACP and the family believe black and Latino students are suspended and expelled more often than white students, and far out of proportion to the incidents that require disciplinary action.
“I firmly believe the reason they were expelled is racism,” he said.
Lolita Alhark, Naeema’s mother, confirmed that her daughter got into a fight with another girl on campus April 25.
She said it started with a racial slur from the other girl and continued later in the day with a second confrontation that led to the fight. A Tracy Police Department school resource officer took a report, but no arrests were made.
“We’re not condoning the fight,” Alhark said, “but when children are punished, they need to be punished appropriately.”
She said that her daughter, who missed classes and homework assignments, will not graduate with her class and must take summer school to make up for missed classes.
“We’re more concerned about how the school district gives children different treatment,” she said. “This will not be tolerated.”
Williams Principal Barbara Montgomery would not comment on this particular case.
“All I can say is, we follow our rules and procedures and our discipline plan in place,” she said. “Behavior gets our attention. It’s not the color of anyone’s skin.”
The school board approved eight expulsions Tuesday. On seven of those, the vote was unanimous to expel. Only one trustee James Vaughn dissented. Vaughn, the only black trustee on the board, would not say if the vote was regarding Naeema’s case.
“When I look at cases, I don’t look at race. I look at the facts,” he said.
TUSD regularly compiles statistics on expulsions. The last time those numbers were broken down for ethnicity was the 2004-05 school year.
The district expelled 197 students that year, including 85 Latino students, 53 black students and 47 white students. In most cases, students are expelled for fighting, weapon possession or drug possession. Among 13 Williams Middle School students who were expelled that year, five were Latino, four were black, one was white and the others were American Indian, Asian and Filipino.
Williams’ School Accountability Report Card for that year showed that among 1,362 students, 485 (38.7 percent) were white; 395 (36.9 percent) were Latino; and 144 (9.1 percent) were black.
School district officials do not release information on specific student discipline cases, citing state privacy laws, and would not name either student in the Williams School fight.
But Naeema, her family and some of her friends went to Tuesday’s open session, where one of her teachers, the pastor from her church and a member of the Tracy African American Association urged the board to reconsider her expulsion.
“Naeema deserves a second chance,” teacher Terry Mason told the board.
She described Naeema as an honor roll student who gets along with others and often takes leadership roles in class.
Bivens said he attended the hearings in which school and district officials reviewed the case for expulsion. He expected that Naeema would convince the school board that she deserved a chance to go back to Williams to complete the school year.
“She gave an excellent presentation, an apology, and spoke on how she had learned a lesson and said in the future she would handle disagreements differently,” he said.
Rebecca Frame, director of student services at TUSD, said a school official, usually an assistant principal, meets with the student and parents before recommending expulsion. Frame also talks to parents, students and school officials before cases go to the district’s discipline review board, a panel of assistant principals and teachers from around the district.
The district’s board of education makes the final decision during a closed meeting, though the parents, students and others are welcome to make their case at every step.
To reach reporter Bob Brownne, call 830-4227 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.