Mouthing off in class or failing to follow a teacher’s instructions will no longer lead to suspension in Oakland schools, a ban that will be phased in and be fully in effect just over a year from now, the school board unanimously decided Wednesday night.
Oakland Unified will become one of a handful of California school districts that restrict suspensions to more serious offenses and eliminate the punishment for willful defiance — a broad category of misbehavior that includes minor offenses such as refusing to take a hat off or ignoring teacher requests to stop texting and more severe incidents like swearing at a teacher or storming out of class. San Francisco and Los Angeles are also among those districts.
The state already bans suspension for willful defiance from kindergarten through third grade, and Oakland’s decision extends it through high school. The new policy, which goes into full effect July 1, 2016, also bans expulsions and the practice of involuntary transfers — moving students from one school to another — for willful defiance infractions.
Student Dan’enicole Williams, a McClymonds High School sophomore, said the ban will force educators and administrators to focus on why students are behaving a certain way rather than just suspending them.
“They never take time out, if someone is sleeping in class, to ask what’s wrong,” she said. “They may be acting that way because they didn’t eat the night before.”
As in other urban districts, African American students are disproportionately among those suspended, specifically for willful defiance in Oakland.
“We’re getting pushed out of schools,” said Dan’enicole, 15, who is African American and Italian American. “They don’t care about us.”
Oakland has been criticized for the disproportionate suspensions, leading to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and a 2012 voluntary agreement that required the district to employ a range of practices that reduced suspensions. Among them are the district’s Manhood Development classes for African American males as well as restorative justice, which requires victims and offenders to talk about the behavior and ways to address it.
Willful defiance suspensions for African American students in Oakland declined from 1,050 incidents in 2011 to 630 in 2014, according to district officials. That number is expected to drop significantly this school year as well.
Community activists from the Black Organizing Project, Public Counsel and Californians for Justice, among others, applauded the school board vote, but said more was needed to address the needs of disadvantaged students in the district.
Members of those organizations urged the district to pour at least $2.3 million into alternative discipline programs, including Manhood Development and restorative justice, which Superintendent Antwan Wilson vowed to include in his budget for the 2015-16 school year.
“This is about reintegrating students into the classroom rather than excluding them from learning,” Wilson said in a letter to the community earlier Wednesday, which included his funding promise. “The work is worth it. Removing willful defiance and scaling up more restorative practices at schools throughout the district is incredibly important.”
Title: Oakland to halt school suspensions for willful defiance
By: Jill Tucker
Date: May 14, 2015