CA lawmakers reconsidering `zero-tolerance’ student discipline laws

As we reported in a story this week about the number of California school kids who received an out-of-school suspension in a single school year, the state’s public schools are required, by law, to suspend or expel kids who are caught selling drugs, brandishing a knife, possessing a firearm or explosive, or sexually assaulting someone.

Assembly Bill 2537, introduced by Assemblymember V. Manuel Perez (D-Coachella) — as introduced  — would remove that requirement, with the exception of the firearm and explosives offenses. In essence, the legislation would leave it up to school officials to decide on the appropriate disciplinary action. It would also lift a requirement that principals report illegal activities to legal authorities; the failure to do so now constitutes an infraction.

Lastly, it requires a governing board’s decision to expel a student to be based not only on the act, itself, but on the grounds that “other means of correction are not feasible or have repeatedly failed to bring about proper conduct.”

A vote on this bill is scheduled for next week.

Another bill, AB 2242, from Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento) would remove “defiance” as grounds for an out-of-school suspension (but would still allow schools to place students under a supervised in-school suspension as a consequence for willfully defying authority). The Associated Press reported last week that 40 percent of California school suspensions are given for that reason.

Dickinson’s bill passed out of the Assembly Education Committee on Wednesday (7-3 vote) and heads next to Appropriations.

Do you support either of these bills?

A statement from Perez’s office: Continue Reading


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:  Continue Reading


Should Oakland track student suspensions by teacher?

A new report calls for school districts to publish student disciplinary statistics by school, race and gender, to help teachers learn how to keep order in their classrooms without kicking kids out, and to create a disciplinary system that doesn’t result in out-of-school suspensions of large numbers of students — particularly black students.

The policy brief, by the University of Colorado’s National Education Policy Center and UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, reminded me to check in with what’s happening in Oakland Unified on the discipline-and-race front.

A plan proposed by the Oakland school district’s African American Male Achievement Task Force would do some of the things suggested in the report — and even go beyond.

One of the task force’s recommendations, listed on page 14, is to identify teachers who refer a certain number of black students for suspension based on “defiance” — the vast majority of cases, according to spokesman Troy Flint — as well as principals at schools high expulsion rates for black males: Continue Reading


Cyberbullies, beware

Bullying is grounds for suspension or expulsion in California, whether it’s done face to face or through electronic media. And if there was any doubt that Facebook and other social networks came under the state’s definition of electronic media, there isn’t anymore.

Assemblymember Nora Campos (D-San Jose) introduced the Cyber Bully Prevention bill, AB 746, this year. Not surprisingly, it won bipartisan support and faced little opposition before Gov. Jerry Brown signed it on Friday, according to a news release from Campos’s office. (I wouldn’t imagine many politicians would vote against an anti-bullying bill, even if they didn’t like it, though some did.)

The new rule takes effect in January. Here it is:  Cyber bully prevention law

Does anyone at your school or your child’s school monitor social networks? Have students been disciplined after allegations of cyberbullying? Do you think this will make a difference in how kids interact with each other online?


New data on attendance, suspension rates and scores of Oakland’s African American males

The Oakland school district has released some new data on the achievement of its black male students as part of its African American male achievement initiative, led by Chris Chatmon. (Note: The California Department of Education reports test scores by race and by gender, but not race and gender.)

  • About 27 percent of Oakland’s black males showed proficiency in English language arts in 2010, compared to 31 percent of all black students, 80 percent of white males and the districtwide average of 41 percent.
  • About 30 percent tested proficient in math, about the same as the overall proficiency rate for all African American students, but lower than the average for white males (77 percent) and the district average (44 percent).
  • One in every five of the district’s black male students missed more than 18 days of school last year, making them chronically truant. Continue Reading

Case study: an alternative to “zero-tolerance” discipline in West Oakland

Cole Middle School. File photo by Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group

A social justice center at UC Berkeley’s law school published a case study today that highlights the successes, challenges and potential of restorative justice in schools, based on observations at the (now closed) Cole Middle School in West Oakland.

Restorative Justice is a set of principles designed to build community, prevent violence, correct behavior, and to repair harm, as well as frayed relationships. It’s an alternative to the traditional school discipline model, and the centers believe it could be a way to reduce the disproportionately high suspension rates of black and Latino students. You can find a lengthy description and online resources here, on the district’s website.

This is not a data-heavy report, but it does give a promising stat: The suspension rate at Cole dropped by 87 percent and expulsions went to zero after the program was implemented. Check out the graphs on page 31, if you have a chance.

It was an interesting read, especially if you make it beyond the executive summary. It’s clear that the author(s) spent lots of time at the school, observing and talking to people. (I think I met a law student working on this project — Atteeyah Hollie, maybe? — at a Cole event in 2008, after a gun went off in a classroom.)

Here’s a section on negative assumptions that some had, going in: Continue Reading


Four big goals for black males in Oakland

Chris Chatmon at Frick Middle School. By Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group

I blogged in September about the appointment of Chris Chatmon as director of the Oakland school district’s African American male achievement office, which is privately funded.

A story about the initiative ran in today’s Tribune. You can read it here.

What do you think (and/or hope) it will accomplish?

If you’d like to volunteer your time, talents or ideas, you can reach Chatmon directly at christopher.chatmon@ousd.k12.ca.us.


Bullying in the news

anti-bullying signThe recent suicides of two teenagers has brought school bullying into the national spotlight again, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I was asked to write a story on this troubling subject. The thing is, I don’t want it to be the predictable sort we’ve all read (and I’ve probably written), filled with quotes from experts and advocates and maybe an anecdote or two.

Which is why I’m coming to you. If you’ve been following the school bullying coverage, what has the news media gotten right, and what aspects of the issue have we missed?

How does bullying manifest itself at your school, or outside of school? What do school staff — or other kids — do to stop it, or to keep it from happening in the first place? What doesn’t your school do that it could be doing?

Have you seen the restorative justice approach applied to bullying? How has it worked out?


Report follows the grass-roots organizers who brought small schools to Oakland

Tribune file photo of Acorn Woodland Elementary School by Alex Molloy

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University has spent six years studying a major initiative of the Oakland Community Organizations: to radically change public education in the city’s flatlands neighborhoods by creating small schools. Tonight at Castlemont’s East Oakland School of the Arts (EOSA), researchers discussed the findings. Continue Reading


Oh, the noise, noise, noise, noise!

Dallas Lane is not a Skyline High School student, or a teacher for that matter. But she is certainly abreast of the high school’s internal communications. In fact, she can’t escape them.

Lane and her husband live close to Skyline, work from home, and they say they hear every single word blasted from the school’s frequently utilized PA system.

“I’ve heard it early in the morning, at 7 — Beep! And then an announcement,” Lane said at a neighborhood association meeting tonight. “Somebody’s got their hand on that little button,” she added. “It’s too loud, and it’s used excessively.”

Skyline’s new principal, Al Sye, Continue Reading