The Oakland Unified School District and the U.S. Department of Education reached an agreement last week that would allow federal officials to monitor the district’s efforts to curb the number of out-of-school suspensions of its African American students.
The resolution, which the Oakland school board passed unanimously, closes an investigation by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights into whether African American students were disciplined more frequently and harshly than their white classmates. The agreement was reached Thursday.
Last school year, African American students made up about 39% of the district’s total enrollment but accounted for 63% of students with at least one suspension and 61% of those who were expelled, said Russlynn Ali, the department’s assistant secretary for civil rights.
That disparity and the practices that led to them are found across the country, Ali said. “They are not unique to Oakland,” she said.
The district plans to try to address disciplinary issues without suspensions, revise discipline policies, provide services for students at risk of dropping out and provide training for teachers and staff, she said.
Under the agreement, the department can continue to oversee the district until it deems that it has fulfilled its obligations, particularly finding ways of disciplining students that do not involve suspension.
The agreement will make sure the district works “to change the culture in schools and classrooms that too often gives rise to extraordinary rates of discipline,” Ali said.