More on student discipline in Oakland — and a list of suspension-free schools

According to statistics provided by the Oakland school district (and crunched by your devoted education reporter):

TOTAL SUSPENSIONS in 2010-11: 6,137


DEFIANCE (“disruption/defy authority”) was the basis for 43 percent of all suspensions.

BLACK MALES made up less than 20 percent of all students in OUSD, but received about half of the suspensions.

At least two of the schools had more suspensions than students: Barack Obama Academy and Youth Empowerment School. YES (on the King Estates campus) closed in June, and Barack Obama Academy, an alternative middle school that opened on the Toler Heights campus in 2007, is slated to merge with Community Day.

On the other end of the spectrum, 16 schools reported no suspensions at all, or just one. Yes, some are “hills schools,” but others are in high-poverty, high-crime areas. Two are alternative schools. And the student body at Burckhalter, an elementary school in the East Oakland foothills, was was 64 percent African-American last year.

NO SUSPENSIONS: ASCEND, Franklin, Global Family, Montclair, Peralta, Street Academy and Thornhill.

ONE SUSPENSION: Bridges at Melrose, Burckhalter, Crocker Highlands, Greenleaf, Glenview, Kaiser, Fred T. Korematsu, Redwood Heights, Sojourner Truth.

Can anyone offer us insight into these schools and their approaches to discipline and classroom management? Especially at Bridges, Burckhalter, Greenleaf, Korematsu, ASCEND, Franklin, Global Family, Street Academy and Sojourner Truth?

NOTE: Some of the figures provided this week by OUSD differ slightly from those posted on the California Department of Education’s website.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • arcoiris

    In my opinion, I don’t think all schools and principals use the same criteria to initiate a suspension. I also don’t think “in-school” suspensions are included in these numbers. In fact, I’ve heard a principal say, “I have already suspended too many students this year. I will do an in-school suspension instead.”

    In some cases suspension solves the problem. In most cases it doesn’t, and a more preventative & responsive approach such as Restorative Justice, counseling, or behavior analysis is needed to truly respond to the issue.

    I also don’t think that suspension statistics give the true picture of the culture and climate of the school. Observing the daily life of the school, preferably over the course of a few days, is a better approach in my opinion. A handful of schools are participating in the School Quality Review process this year. Hopefully that process can reveal the true culture and climate of the school.

  • Katy Murphy

    That’s right. These numbers only include out-of-school suspensions.

  • Yasmin Anwar

    I agree. Disciplinary actions are one way to measure behavioral issues at a school, but different schools use different standards. So while I’m happy to hear that my school, Kaiser, just had one out-of-school suspension last year, I would worry that a goal of no suspensions would discourage principals from using them, particularly when highly warranted, because that would compromise the rules of civil conduct and safety of our public schools.

  • Katy Murphy

    The African American Male Achievement task force recommendations I cited in my previous post refer to a “baseline” level of suspensions. I don’t think that level has been established yet, but I doubt zero is the goal. I just thought it was interesting that some elementary schools had no out-of-school suspensions while others had dozens — in a couple cases, more than 100.

  • Mary H.

    I don’t know if this still goes on, but I’ve worked with principals who informally suspended students by getting the parents to agree to take the child home for at least the rest of the day of the offense. That kind of action would not technically be a suspension, but serves the same purpose. I don’t know if any of the schools named use this practice, but it is a way to keep the recorded suspension numbers down.

  • Anita

    I worked at Bridges at Melrose from 1992-2005. The lack of suspensions is part of a bigger school-wide discipline system. Delia Ruiz was the instrumental principal who took the school’s leadership team made up of teachers and others to other schools to look at school-wide discipline plans that worked. When Delia first took over the school the school had been have suspensions in the three digit numbers. She put an amazing system in place that is still used in many parts today. She was followed by other wonderful principals Moyra Contreras and Clara Tarango, both who were teachers and then TSA/coaches at Melrose previously, who kept the discipline plan going. The school-wide discipline plan was quite comprehensive: clear school-wide Rules and Consequences that all parents signed on to on paper. Students are cited (yellow) for breaking a rule in a common area and awarded (green citation) when being helpful. Green citations are used a raffle tix regularly for students who get pencils and other attractive little prizes. Students who never got cited in a marking period get to watch a movie with popcorn one afternoon. Students who never got a yellow citation throughout the year got a trophy or medal in front of lots of people at Back to School night the following year. Amazing how celebrating good behavior works. Teachers are required to keep track of yellow citations and students/teachers/parents are all involved in students doing detention when receiving yellow citations. The amazing school psychologist, who was there for many years but now retired, Carolyn Urbanski, kept meticulous records of student behavior. Students who struggled with being academically productive and with behavior had Student Success Team (SST) meetings regularly led by the school psychologist that the principal and teacher attended when meeting with parents. During SSTs struggling students made goals for themselves. There were check-ins EVERY DAY for these students on their goals and consequences both at home and at school. The teacher was not alone in dealing with these struggling students. The school made this a priority and had to include in their budget $$ for paying for extra supports to manage the SST process and school-wide plan. Having continuity of leadership and teachers is a huge asset in consistently implementingthe school-wide discipline system and ability to manage student behavior. Teachers at Melrose felt supported and many stayed unlike other flat land schools with high turnover rates. On the yard, teachers supervise students daily. There is play equipment and freeze bell at recesses.Students were taught how to play games during PE with classroom teacher and how to make decisions when they couldn’t agree if someone was out or not. Bridges at Melrose has been a safe place for students for a while now. The ethnic and racial make-up of the school has changed a lot in the last decade but this system seemed to help keep students from being suspended for many years.OUSD leadership could use this school as model for other schools.

  • Mary H.

    Thank you, Anita, for providing so much detail about the effective discipline/incentive policy at Bridges at Melrose. We use some of those strategies at my school, and they’ve been pretty effective. We don’t have a lot of suspensions, but we do have some chronic misbehavior. I think implementing a few aspects of Bridges’ system may help us tighten that problem up. Thanks again!

  • Makeitgoaway

    why are people patting themselves on the back for few elementary school suspensions? I mean it’s elementary school! Middle schools and high schools are where the problems remain.

  • Seenitbefore

    Rude and disruptive students need to understand that their are consequences for that sort of behavior in the “real world”.

    There is absolutely NO appropriate reason that a student should be allowed to run around their school campus hollering loudly, displaying sexually inappropriate behavior, cursing out other students or defying the authority of their teachers or the school administration. I don’t care WHAT color they are!!!! And the fact that we would accept this sort of behavior from students simply because they are African-American….. is patronizing and demeaning.

    I KNOW my students are capable of behaving… and they damn sure BETTER! Give me a break! Quit pulling out the race card to justify acting stupid and making poor choices. We are supposed to be EDUCATING and PREPARING students for their future. What sort of a job do you think these kids will be able to hold in the future with all this wild behavior? If a student refuses to behave appropriately, there needs to be an alternative setting to place the student. In-School suspension, alternative campus for behavior modification, or in some cases, suspension or home-study. EVERYONE is entitled to a public education… even the kids who are behaving themselves and trying to learn every day.

  • Seenitbefore

    there…… sorry for not spell checking first.

  • J.R.

    Have you watched the previous two or three public comment segments of the Oakland school board meetings? Everyone(pretty much) from 18 to 80 blames the school board for things such as the achievement gap(between AA kids and white), equity, outcomes and violence(while kids are out unsupervised doing lord knows what). Not a one parent(and there were many young mothers, big surprise there)said anything about personally instilling a culture of learning and discipline within their home for the child’s sake. They all enable these kids to blow off authority, and then blame their failings on someone else.It’s no wonder most if not all of these kids will be lost in the real world. If you don’t teach your child to behave civilly in society and abide by constraints, then society will do it for you(this is precisely why our prisons are full).

  • Parent stuck in OUSD


    The fact that you saw these parents at school board meetings indicate that they are involved to such a degree that they are re-enforcing learning and discipline in their home. You can be rest assured that the parents of the out of control kids in the schools and then left to their own devices between 3-6PM, running around unsupervised are not attending board meetings much less checking in with how their child is doing behavior-wise (much less grades, homework, achievement…LEARNING!).

    The systemic lack of parenting (not parental involvement, PARENTING) in OUSD is not a task the district will even address lest they be accused of finger pointing. At my school, we have many single, full time working moms that still manage to volunteer, check homework, get their kids to school on time, pick them up on time and be present in various ways.They even live in the same neighborhoods where these troubled schools exist. No one addresses the parent shirking their responsibilities in this town. No one holds these kids accountable. No one is doing a thing to ensure these kids don’t turn into their parents.

  • Mario

    How can we suspend parents?

    This whole parent involvement stuff is a bunch of crap in the urban low income inner cities.Those who have admintered schools will attest that students are ok- its the parents who need to be suspended and outlawed at times.

    What can schools do to protect themselves from crazy, aggressive and ridiculous parents? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

  • livegreen

    I 2nd Makingitgoaway’s question in #8: please advise about Middle School #’s?

    Also, do any of the schools with higher FRL #’s have OFCY, social emotional counselor or other programs?

  • J.R.

    Parent Stuck,
    I don’t think that is necessarily so, some of the women said flat out that not having a school in close proximity to their home was a hardship(translation:my childcare is too far away). If you watch the school board meeting just after the Brown shooting, you will see the mother state that he was a “good boy”(even though good boys don’t generally spend their time committing crimes, or even just be in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people). This speaks volumes about the core problem we face as a society. These young boys never mature and grow up into responsible adults because they are always holding on to momma’s skirt, even when and if they have kids of their own(not that momma was a very responsible person either). Many of these children are perpetual adolescents and never grow up, psychologists say its a form of Infantilism & victimhood I believe. Yes they a non-working mama’s tax refund(so, the more the better as the saying goes).

  • J.R.

    Here is a very good read on the subject:


  • Gordon Danning


    Is there any way to figure out how many individual students were suspended? There might have been 6,000 suspensions, but is that 6000 kids suspended once each, or 1000 kids suspended 6 times each. (I’m betting it is closer to the latter than to the former).

    I’d also be curious to see the gender/racial breakdown re: number of individual students suspended, rather than total suspensions.

    Also, the statistic on black male suspensions is less significant than it might seem; if black males are only twice as likely to come to the attention of authority figures, and only twice as likely to be defiant when than happens, then if they make up 20% of the student body then they will make up 50% of the suspensions.

  • Katy Murphy

    Interesting. Can you elaborate on your last point? Do you think twice as likely isn’t significant?

    I think the percentage of black males attending OUSD schools is actually closer to 17 percent (I said less than 20), but maybe that’s not relevant to your analysis.

  • Gordon Danning

    I guess that depends on what you mean by “significant.” If it means, “the result of something that the District is doing wrong,” then, no. Everyone knows that young males of all races are more likely than young females to commit crimes, act the fool, etc. And, it is my experience that African American students are more likely than the average student to, for example, be in the hallways during class time. In addition, African American students are more likely than the average student to respond angrily, disrespectfully, and/or vulgarly to a teacher’s request to go to class, stop disrupting, turn off your cell phone, etc, etc.

    Now, that tendency might be the result of Institutional Racism, Global Capitalism, Global Communism, The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, the Illuminati, the ZOG, or fill-in-the-blank; regardless, it is a real phenomenon, and hence it is not surprising that the suspension numbers look as they do. In fact, in my experience, administrators bend over backwards in an effort NOT to suspend African American students.

  • J.R.

    You are right, and one of the issues -NOT- brought up by the presentation of the NAACP to the school board on this very subject of AA discipline, is the lack of parental responsibility as a root cause. This is not about racism, this is about the personal failure of people to be responsible, civil and respectful. Here is some more evidence:


  • Harold

    I hope these (disciplinary) realities don’t lead to stereotyping the well-behaved Black Students – like my son.

  • J.R.

    The NAACP did bring up a few valid points:

    1. There are teachers that need to go.

    2. Social promotion has to be scrapped.