Two students from Oakland Unified talk with their mentor at the African American Male Achievement ManUp! Conference in February.

The Oakland Unified school board voted unanimously Wednesday night to eliminate willful defiance as a reason to suspend any student and to invest at least $2.3 million to expand restorative justice practices in its schools.

“If we are to ensure that success for OaklandĀ children is not determined by cultural background or neighborhood, it means that we must build strong relationships with our students at school and invest deeply in restorative practices,” said superintendent Antwan Wilson in a letter to the community distributed prior to the board meeting. “This is about re-integrating students into the classroom rather than excluding them from learning.”

Community advocates who have been working statewide to eliminate willful defiance say that committing funds is key to making real change.

With the $2.3 million, “Oakland is on the way to full implementation of restorative practices in all their schools,” said Laura Faer, an attorney with Public Council, a public interest law firm that has been advocating for positive disciplinary practices. “That’s real school safety and real school climate transformation. It doesn’t work when it’s underfunded.”

The category of willful defiance and disruptive behavior has been controversial in California because it has been used disproportionately to suspend African-American students and, opponents charge, has become a catch-all for behavior ranging from not turning in homework to cursing at a teacher.

Oakland joins L.A. Unified, San Francisco Unified and Pasadena Unified in eliminating the suspension category. Azusa Unified is phasing it out over three years, starting with the lower grades. Beginning in January, a state law went into effect that prohibited schools from expelling K-12 students or suspending K-3 students for willful defiance.

Beginning next school year, Oakland will also be eliminating involuntary transfers of students to a different school, used as a disciplinary measure by districts. And the district has set up a Safe and Strong Schools Committee to work with parents and students to develop positive disciplinary policies.

“Parents and students need to be invested in the change,” Faer said. “We don’t want this to be a short-term thing.”

Oakland will spend the newly allocated funds on training school site staff on cultural awareness and developing restorative justice and social-emotional skills. The district also plans to expand the best practices learned from its African American Male Achievement Initiative to Latino students and African-American girls, Wilson said.

The district has reduced the suspension rate for all students from 4.9 percent last year to 3.3 percent so far this year, he said. The suspension rate of African-American boys has fallen from 12.7 percent last year to 8.8 percent so far this year, according to Wilson.

 

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  1. Diana 6 months ago6 months ago

    This is fantastic news! I'm surprised by the number of comments against or downplaying the potential of this act. It's time to stop ignoring the disproportionate impact of suspension policies on boys and youth of color. It's time to stop throwing troubled and troublesome youth away. Is this the answer? It's just a start. But we need to message our youth that we are willing to embrace and address their real and perceived pain. There's too … Read More

    This is fantastic news! I’m surprised by the number of comments against or downplaying the potential of this act. It’s time to stop ignoring the disproportionate impact of suspension policies on boys and youth of color. It’s time to stop throwing troubled and troublesome youth away.

    Is this the answer? It’s just a start. But we need to message our youth that we are willing to embrace and address their real and perceived pain. There’s too much going on that pressures kids away from their own best interests. The kids, and their parents, need support. As a well-educated parent of tweens who are having difficulty finding an academic setting that supports their success, of finding an academic approach that meets their special needs creatively and effectively, I’m all in for mindfulness, restorative justice, arts integration, project based learning, mobility throughout the academic day and other programs that serve kids as whole human beings, worthy of empathy, boundaries, and real education.

  2. Joe 6 months ago6 months ago

    This article is written for the joys of writing. This so called restorative justice needs to have limits. A teacher is not a therapist or a physiologist. So for the kids who simply refuse to follow rules, period, and know they are being disruptive to other students who are there for an education, I just hope a restorative justice bill has a big increase in pay for teachers.

  3. Unmitigated Disaster 9 months ago9 months ago

    Though politically correct, this has been an unmitigated disaster wherever it has been tried. The numbers go down, because teachers are browbeaten (ironically enough) into not writing referrals.

    The behaviors that would lead to referrals go up. When you have no one willing to teach in the public schools, maybe we will start supporting teachers first, not blaming teachers first

  4. Julie Waugh 2 years ago2 years ago

    I worked for Mr. Wilson in Denver and he was phenomenal in changing our district. We definitely miss him. As a native of Alameda, I am so happy that he is making a big difference for the children of Oakland!

  5. Vyacheslav 2 years ago2 years ago

    Dear Molly! The current worldview, including a school does not teach the main thing - understanding the human self. This circumstance does not allow to understand the reasons for their inappropriate actions. Our established system of education and teaching embodies knowledge that does not have its basis in spiritual values. Humanity continues go lopsided by materialistic development. Science and religion do not offer a reasonable way of civilization, taking into … Read More

    Dear Molly! The current worldview, including a school does not teach the main thing – understanding the human self. This circumstance does not allow to understand the reasons for their inappropriate actions. Our established system of education and teaching embodies knowledge that does not have its basis in spiritual values.
    Humanity continues go lopsided by materialistic development. Science and religion do not offer a reasonable way of civilization, taking into account both components of living matter and spirit. “Why and how the world, Who is man, what is the soul,” these and many other questions can not be answered. Tomorrow is reasonable answers will play a decisive role in choosing the ways of further development.
    If you have no idea what Soul is and how it functions then you are not able either to do or to understand anything rationally. In order to manage their thoughts and feelings humans need to understand spiritual structure.
    ,

  6. Don 2 years ago2 years ago

    The end of this article by Susan Frey describes the equity-driven, bean-counting mindset that is unable to look deeper than suspension rates and proportionality. The inference isn't subtle: A lower suspension rate equals success. If I decide after reading some parenting book to stop using timeouts and have a family circle instead, can I judge the success of this change by the lower incidence of timeouts? What is the behavioral consequence of the … Read More

    The end of this article by Susan Frey describes the equity-driven, bean-counting mindset that is unable to look deeper than suspension rates and proportionality. The inference isn’t subtle: A lower suspension rate equals success. If I decide after reading some parenting book to stop using timeouts and have a family circle instead, can I judge the success of this change by the lower incidence of timeouts? What is the behavioral consequence of the change? How does it affect the classroom where the majority learning takes place at school? What is the impact of the additional time and expense on school affairs? That is to say, what is financial and human consequence of the associated costs in time and money? Even if RP is highly successful for the individuals, which there’s no proof of that, these are still valid questions.

    My central point is this. If restorative practices works there’s no need for a ban. Simply require that any student who is ejected from a class for willful defiance or otherwise gets in trouble at school be engaged restoratively before any suspension were take place. If the practice is successful over a reasonable time period, suspensions would go down by virtue of this success.

    Readers beware. This isn’t about changing behavior. It’s about paper equality – skin deep equality. Do you see any mention of success in changing troublesome behavior in this article? None whatsoever. Ms. Frey’ doesn’t concern herself with results. She reports on programs that evoke equality and good intentions, but now after several years of restorative practices in the schools, where are the results, one way or another? And by that I don’t mean what are the suspension rates. Those results certainly can’t be had in Ms. Frey’s article.

    What and how Ed Source chooses to frame the issues has led it further t left in recent months from pushing Common Core to downplaying its criticism. Here is just another example of that turn.

    Replies

    • Keith Hale 2 years ago2 years ago

      Don, there is lots of proof that behavior is modified, in fact taking responsibility to repair harm is a main part of RJ.

  7. Daisy Vanderlaan 2 years ago2 years ago

    I hope this works. Maybe then they can single out the repeat children and find them a mentor. Perhaps some counseling to provide self esteem and motivation to look forward to future goals and mapping out their career goals. So many teens have no direction, they have no concept of all the various choices of careers other than the obvious Doctors, Lawyers, Dancers, Singers........ " I think if they start steering the wheels in the … Read More

    I hope this works.
    Maybe then they can single out the repeat children and find them a mentor. Perhaps some counseling to provide self esteem and motivation to look forward to future goals and mapping out their career goals. So many teens have no direction, they have no concept of all the various choices of careers other than the obvious Doctors, Lawyers, Dancers, Singers……..

    ” I think if they start steering the wheels in the right direction they will stay on the HIGHWAY”

  8. Carole Bremner 2 years ago2 years ago

    Maybe we should consider restorative justice as one of many practices involved in promoting a positive school climate? Let’s not see it as the “be all and end all” method of student to interaction.
    CB

    Replies

    • Andrew 2 years ago2 years ago

      I will sit back with some popcorn and watch with interest as school personnel are forced to use restorative justice in dealing with a student psychopath, i.e. a student who has real psychopathic personality disorder. True psychopaths comprise something like 1% of the general population, but comprise as much as 15% to 25% of the incarcerated population. What limited study has been done on heritability shows a strong genetic component. Highly … Read More

      I will sit back with some popcorn and watch with interest as school personnel are forced to use restorative justice in dealing with a student psychopath, i.e. a student who has real psychopathic personality disorder.

      True psychopaths comprise something like 1% of the general population, but comprise as much as 15% to 25% of the incarcerated population. What limited study has been done on heritability shows a strong genetic component. Highly competent MD psychiatrists and acclaimed mental heath institutions using the best therapies achieve little or no headway with this population. There is some evidence that some popular therapies may actually aid the psychopath in developing manipulative strategies.

      But we expect teachers and school personnel to do with one-size-fits-all solutions what MD psychiatrists cannot manage to accomplish. And we will blame the teachers when it does not work and when the rest of the class fails to learn despite disruption.

  9. Joe in N. Calif. 2 years ago2 years ago

    Congratulations on perpetuating racism. With this action you have told black students that they are unable to act with respect towards others, and that they can not be expected to fit into a civilized society.