On Wednesday, May 13, Oakland moved to ban school suspensions for students accused of "willful defiance," a catchall which included talking back to teachers, refusing to take off a hat in class, or showing up to school not in uniform. The category also squarely hit black students, who are disproportionately punished with suspensions and expulsions in Oakland schools.
The Oakland School Board’s unanimous decision, which will go into effect July 1, 2016 and include all students through high school, builds on a California state law which bans the punishment category for kindergarteners through third graders. Oakland is the third district after Los Angeles and San Francisco to ban suspensions for willful defiance. In Oakland in 2011, black students made up 31 percent of the district’s enrolled students by 57 percent of those who were suspended in school in the year, according to federal data.
The district also pledged $2.3 million to expand student support services which would go toward restorative practices aimed to intervene and reduce violence in schools.
Oakland’s suspensions, in gross numbers, have already been on a steep decline since 2011, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, but racial disparities persist, points out Public Counsel, a member of the Dignity in Schools Campaign, a coalition of organizations which advocated for the policy changes.
"Oakland Unified made history last night," Public Counsel Statewide Education Rights Director Laura Faer said in a statement issued Thursday. "The research is clear that even one school removal can double the chance of dropout and make it three times more likely for a student to end up in the juvenile justice system."