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Oakland Unified Takes Historic Vote to End Suspensions and Transfers for ‘Willful Defiance’ and Commits $2.3 Million to Fund Intervention and Prevention

On Wednesday night, after months of advocacy by a broad coalition of community groups and civil rights advocates, students, parents and teachers, the Oakland Unified School Board voted unanimously on Wednesday night to end suspensions and involuntary transfers for ‘willful defiance and disruption’ as of July 1, 2016.  Superintendent Antwan Wilson and members of the Oakland Unified School Board also made a formal and unprecedented commitment to invest $2.3 million of hard district dollars in the 2015-16 fiscal year to expand violence intervention and prevention strategies that help students achieve educational success.

“The end of suspensions and involuntary transfers for ‘willful defiance’ is a historic victory for Oakland,” said Jasmine Jones, Lead Organizer for the Black Organizing Project (BOP), one of the organizations leading the effort for school climate policy reforms. “This victory for the students, parents and teachers of Oakland will result in real safety in our schools and interrupt the school to prison pipeline.”

Although Oakland has significantly reduced the number of students suspended over the past several years, students of color continue to be removed from school for minor behavior, often categorized as disruption and willful defiance, at much higher rates than other students.

School Board Director Rosie Torres worked closely with community and strongly championed the unprecedented and significant $2.3 million dollar investment.  It will result in expansion of restorative practices to all schools and of the African American Manhood Development program to include more African American males but also to support Latino and African American female students, and for professional learning for teachers and staff on restorative justice (RJ) and social emotional learning.  These programs have been very effective in the Oakland schools in which they are already in place. At schools already implementing Restorative Justice over the last three years:

Reading levels of 9th graders increased by 128%, compared to only an 11% increase in schools without such programs, graduation rates increased by 60%, compared to 7% for other schools, and the discipline gap between white and African-American students decreased but stayed the same for other schools.

In addition, district data shows that graduates of the African American Manhood Development Program have 25 percent higher grade point averages and are on track to attend 4 year state Universities at a higher rate than other students.

“Restorative Justice was working at my school. When there were conflicts or beefs or I was struggling just to concentrate but couldn’t, the RJ coordinator helped us stay focused and get back on track,” said Aixa Fuller, 16, who is African American, attends McClymonds High school and is a youth member of BOP.  “When we had someone who could just ask us what was wrong, when we were acting out, it made a difference. Sometimes it is because we are hungry, or there is a big problem at home.  We need this support and caring in every school in the district.”

The other significant school climate policy reforms passed by the Board last night that take effect immediately include:

  • Creation of a Safe and Strong Schools Task Force: to guide expansion of implementation of the African American Manhood Development program and restorative practices that take a culturally based, healing informed approach to promoting community building to all schools.
  • Data Accountability and Transparency: to provide regular data on key discipline data – suspensions, transfers, days lost to suspension – disaggregated by all subgroups to the public.
  • A Community Complaint and Feedback Process: to alert the district if restorative approaches are not effective or available at all school sites.

“Last night, Oakland Unified took a tremendous step toward eliminating the school-to-prison pipeline and reducing its disproportionate and devastating effects on students of color,” said Poonam Juneja, Statewide Education Rights Staff Attorney with Public Counsel, another organization leading the effort.

“Even one school removal doubles the chance that a student drops out and  triples the chance that a child will become involved in the juvenile justice system.  By reducing school removal for minor misbehavior, and investing in programs like Restorative Justice that create strong relationships between students and positive adults in their schools, Oakland Unified has shown that it is truly committed improving the educational outcomes for our city’s children.”

The coalition and supporters consist of the Dignity in Schools Campaign – Bay Area, the Black Organizing Project, Public Counsel, ACLU of Northern California, Legal Services for Children, PolicyLink, Californians for Justice, Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY), Forward Together, Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ), the Brotherhood of Elders Network, the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, Equal Justice Society, Oakland Community Organizations, and Oakland Education Association.

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