OAKLAND -- A federal investigation into whether the Oakland school district disciplines its African-American students more harshly than its white students might prompt the Oakland school board to tackle the issue voluntarily.
On Wednesday, the school board considers whether to approve a formal resolution with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. The five-year plan posted on the school district's website focuses initially on 38 of the district's 86 schools. Its goals include an overall reduction in out-of-school suspensions, as well as the suspensions of African-American and special education students, who are far more likely to be sent home from school than their peers. If the resolution is approved, the feds will halt their investigation before they conclude whether the district has, indeed, engaged in discriminatory student discipline practices.
District officials said they would not comment on the investigation or the agreement before Wednesday's meeting. But the text of the resolution highlights the work the school district has already begun to improve the outcomes of its African-American students and to address behavioral problems and conflicts in other ways, such as restorative justice.
" ... it is critical that students learn and are reinforced in appropriate behavior so that they are engaged in the District's education program, rather than its disciplinary system," the resolution reads.
Often, that is not the
That percentage was much lower for Oakland children of different races: Eight percent of Latino children, 3 percent of Asian children and 3 percent of white children received at least one out-of-school suspension during that school year. Districtwide, it was nearly 11 percent.
Such disparities are widespread. The UCLA study found that statewide, African-American students were three times as likely as white students to be suspended at least once, and students with disabilities were twice as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension as their nondisabled peers.
And while such studies have put a spotlight on the issue, schools have fewer resources to deal with student discipline and behavior. In a survey of 315 California school districts by the Oakland-based education research group EdSource, the respondents said they were concerned about behavior management and the impact on students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
The survey, released Monday, found that two-thirds of high school students, and 42 percent of middle school students, who are suspended are forced to stay out of school three or more days. A minority, or 22 percent, of administrators responding who had expelled students said they wish state law offered them an alternative.
Given more resources to improve discipline in their schools, the number of administrators who would prioritize counselors, staff training, conflict-resolution programs, support services and rehabilitation services outnumber those who would opt for more security staff and measures, EdSource reported.
The 20-page Oakland school district resolution does not provide details on the cost of implementing such alternatives in each school, saying only that it is to be determined.
The last time the Oakland school district reached a so-called voluntary resolution with the Office for Civil Rights was nearly 20 years ago. Oscar Wright, a civil rights advocate whose complaint led to that agreement, said it wasn't enforced, and he is skeptical another resolution will lead to real changes. For decades, he's argued that the district has provided its students an unequal education.
"I'm so sick of these plans," Wright said. "Get a principal that knows how to run a school and make a school conducive to children's learning, and they won't have these discipline problems."
By the numbers
Of the African-American males suspended from their Oakland school in 2010-11, 44 percent were punished solely for defying authority, according to Oakland Unified.
African-American boys make up 17 percent of all Oakland students, but received 42 percent of the suspensions in 2010-11.
During the 2009-10 school year, roughly one in 10 Oakland public schoolchildren received an out-of-school suspension, according to the UCLA Civil Rights Project. Among black students, it was one in five. That doesn't include those who received multiple suspensions.
Sources: Oakland Unified School District, UCLA's Civil Rights Project