Oakland Unified School District's efforts to turn away from suspensions and zero tolerance discipline in favor of restorative justice-type practices is being expanded in response to a U.S. Department of Education investigation into potential race-based civil rights violations in OUSD discipline practices.
Now, instead of a plan to roll out restorative justice in 11 schools this year, the district promises in a draft agreement with the federal agency to bring restorative justice-type programs to 38 schools, including every high school and middle school, and to train all teachers and administrators in conflict resolutions skills and classroom management. Its draft Voluntary Resolution Plan with the agency also says it will keep data on disciplinary actions and monitor that data, establish best practices coaching for staff and 10 to 12 other things.
The Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the Voluntary Resolution Plan Oct. 4.
Significantly, on a day after an 11-year-old boy was shot while sleeping in his bed at night, the plan also states the district will provide trauma support services to students and trauma sensitivity training to all teachers, administrators, counselors and aides to effectively help children traumatized by violence or loss of friends or family members to violence. The child who was shot, Luis Duenas-Hernandez, is now in intensive care at Children’s Hospital Oakland with a bullet lodged in his liver. Administrators at his school - Alliance Academy - offered counseling to his schoolmates Thursday. The plan acknowledged how trauma can provoke behavior problems.
The U.S. Department of Education launched its investigation following release of an Urban Strategies report last May that found that African-American boys in Oakland schools were suspended at six times the rate of white boys in the 2010-11 academic year. It said that suspensions peaked in middle school, when one of every three African-American middle school boys was suspended that year. It further stated that suspensions and absenteeism were culprits in derailing many African-American boys from graduating. Moreover, it found that 44 percent of the suspensions of African-American boys were simply for defiance of authority.
That same year, however, the district had already begun to focus on the need to improve the experiences of African-American boys in its schools. It had started the African American Male Achievement Initiative and laid plans for opening Full Service Community Schools. More recently it has started to dismantle punitive discipline practices with the superintendent stating last year that the district "rejects zero tolerance" punishment policies and instead would build discipline programs that encourage positive behavior, hold students accountable for their actions and help them figure out how to build relationships with peers and teachers. It formally launched a pilot restorative justice program.
The Department of Education is essentially saying speed it up; kids can't wait.
That also was the message of at least one speaker at the Board of Education's last meeting when the district staff first proposed the Voluntary Resolution Plan to the board. Oscar Right said Oakland Unified had promised before to treat its students equally.
"When we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States we pledge equality for all," Right said to the board. "What you’ve done and what you are still doing here is criminal."