The Oakland Unified school board in California voted unanimously last week to eliminate willful defiance as a reason to suspend any student.
Willful defiance is a broad category of misbehavior that includes offenses such as ignoring requests to stop texting and swearing at a teacher.
KRON-TV reports the new policy is expected to be in full effect next July.
Civil and child rights advocates have been lobbying for such changes based on statistics showing that minority students are disproportionately punished for disobedience.
According to EdSource, superintendent Antwan Wilson wrote a letter to the community saying, “If we are to ensure that success for Oakland 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.”
The school district will now invest at least $2.3 million to expand “restorative justice” practices in its schools.
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, according to EDSource.
“That’s real school safety and real school climate transformation. It doesn’t work when it’s underfunded,” Faer added.
The U.S. Department of Education publication “Guiding Principles: A Resource for Improving School Climate and Discipline” defines restorative justice practices as, “non-punitive disciplinary responses that focus on repairing harm done to relationships and people, developing solutions by engaging all persons affected by a harm, and accountability. A variety of restorative practices can be used in schools, ranging from brief on-the-spot responses to student behavior in the classroom to community conferencing involving multiple parties, such as students, parents, and teachers.”
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland has been criticized for disproportionate suspensions, leading to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education and a 2012 voluntary agreement that required the district to employ a range of practices that reduced suspensions.