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Oakland School District and Feds Agree on Changes to School Discipline

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Oakland Unified School District has agreed to reduce the use of suspensions and replace them with restorative justice and positive behavior intervention practices.

The Oakland Unified School District board agreed Thursday night to take  specific steps to eradicate racial bias in school discipline, voting unanimously to enter a voluntary resolution with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.

The resolution focuses on replacing suspensions - which historically OUSD meted out to African American boys with much greater frequency than to other students - with restorative justice and positive behavior intervention practices and requiring training for all OUSD staff in these practices as well as in classroom management. The resolution includes about a dozen other specific actions the school district must take, many of which it has already begun.

At a packed school board meeting Thursday night, OUSD Superintendent Tony Smith called the agreement "an exciting opportunity to continue work," along a path that OUSD started with its strategic plan of creating Full Service Community Schools in the district and launching the African American Male Achievement Initiative. But he and others acknowledged the resolution means accelerating those efforts.

"We will further work that is already underway" Smith said. What have been pilot projects in restorative justice will need to be expanded and brought to every school, starting with 38 the DOE cited for disproportionate use of suspensions as discipline of African American boys.

The Department of Education Office of Civil Rights launched an investigation last May following the release of data by the Urban Strategies Council in Oakland showing that African American boys in OUSD were six times more likely to be suspended than white boys and that, at least in the year 2010-2011, suspensions were used at an alarming rate in disciplining African American boys. Urban Strategies found that one of every five African American boy students in OUSD schools was suspended that year and that among middle school students, one in three African American boys were suspended and most often only for defiance. Urban Strategies also said that loss of classroom time is hurting the chances of African American boys to stay on track towards high school graduation.

Thursday night, many impassioned teachers, parents and administrators took to the microphone.

"I am here to encourage teachers and administrators to explore other methods of discipline than suspensions. At Ralph Bunche we lowered suspensions from 84 percent to 62 percent in one year and ended racial disparity in suspensions," said Eric Butler who runs the Restorative Justice pilot program at Ralph J Bunche High School.

Oscar Right, an Oakland resident, said treating students of all races equally - whether it is in coursework content or discipline practices - and helping them achieve their best "has to start in kindergarten. We cannot wait until 8th grade." 

By agreeing to carry out the voluntary resolution, OUSD and DOE also agreed to end the DOE's civil rights investigation. However, the school district must collect, monitor and supply data on how it is disciplining students and how it is meeting the terms of the accord.

Source: Oakland Local []

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