The Oakland Unified School District and the U.S. Department of Education agreed last week to allow for at least five years of federal monitoring as the district attempts to reduce the disproportionately high black student suspension rate, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The resolution, of which the Oakland school board voted 6-0 in favor, concludes an investigation by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights into whether discipline of black students was harsher and more frequent and harshly than for their white peers.
Data released by the Department of Education in March showed that black students are three-and-a-half times as likely to be suspended or expelled as their white classmates.
Under last week's agreement, federal officials will keep watch on 38 Oakland schools and oversee the district’s five-year plan to address students’ needs by offering mentoring services to at-risk students, providing training for teachers and staff and combatting disciplinary issues without resorting to suspensions.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, almost 20 percent of Oakland’s black males were suspended at least once last year — six times the rate of white students. In middle school, one out of every three black students was suspended at least once. Furthermore, research conducted during the 2010-11 school year found that more than half of African American male students in the Oakland Unified School District are at risk of dropping out.
Russlynn Ali, the Education Department’s assistant secretary for civil rights, told the LA Times that last school year, African American students comprised about 39 percent of the district's total enrollment but accounted for 63 percent of students with at least one suspension and 61 percent of those who were expelled.
"Historically, they have been the whipping boys in our district," Chris Chatmon, executive director of the district's African-American Male Achievement Office, told the Oakland school board. "We are here today to ante up and reclaim our children."
Federal education officials say they are hopeful Oakland can serve as a model for other districts that are seeking to address disproportionately high rates of suspensions of minority students, the AP reports.
"Disparities in disciplinary procedures are inherently wrong and all too common," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. "I commend Oakland for being the first district to directly confront this challenge."