ACLU says minority students, those with disabilities unfairly punished at school

Academia Del Pueblo Elementary School is among several Phoenix-area schools participating in the ACLU campaign, Demand2Learn, driving success for students who are minorities or who have disabilities. (Photo by Marcia Oppong/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona has joined forces with several schools in the Valley to minimize discriminatory school discipline of minority students and students with disabilities.

Carlos Diaz, who is Latino and has a learning disability, has attended and left schools before landing at his tenth school, Agua Fria High School, in the southwest Valley. He said teachers there are more engaged with students.

“They pay attention a lot more to the students than the past teachers that I’ve been with,” the 15-year-old freshman said.

Carlos Diaz and his mother, Eliza Diaz, are part of the ACLU’s Demand2Learn campaign aimed at eliminating practices that disproportionately take kids of color, special education and English Language Learning students out of the classroom.

Eliza Diaz said her son hasn’t had a lot of luck with previous schools he has attended. She took her son out of a charter school in third grade after school officials accused him of bumping into another student. Her son said it was an accident. She said he sat in an office for more than two hours before she was called.

“He’s just really had a really tough time with accommodations and with the schools providing the services that he needs in order for him to be successful,” Diaz said.

Luis Avila, who manages the campaign, said school discipline is meted out differently to students of color.

“For example, African-American students are eight times more likely to be suspended out of school in our charter high schools here in Phoenix,” Avila said. “Latino students are six times more to be suspended in a high school here in Phoenix. Native American students are almost ten times more likely to be suspended in suburban schools across their tribal communities.”

Avila said the schools and districts involved in the campaign are “committing to cut their exclusionary practices, release their data and share best practices across schools.”

Martin Perez Jr., vice principal of Academia Del Pueblo Elementary School, said the campaign is worthwhile.

“Growing up, specifically in middle school, I was suspended several times for various reasons,” Perez said. “Had it not been for my teachers, my school principal and the supports I had in my school, I probably wouldn’t be here today.”

Eliza Diaz encourages parents to stand up for their children.

“My son is not a failure and he is going to be a success,” she said. “We can’t let discriminatory practices dictate who our child is going to be or what opportunities our child is going to have. We can’t do that. We can’t allow it.”


The five schools and four districts involved in the campaign are:
• Arizona School for the Arts
• Phoenix Collegiate Academy
• Vista College Prep
• Espiritu Schools
• Friendly House’s Academia Del Pueblo
• Phoenix Union High School District
• Pendergast Elementary District
• Balsz Elementary School District
• Fowler Elementary School District