KQED: Oakland Schools' New Effort to Fight Soaring Suspension Rates

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December 26, 2012
By Ana Tintocalis

Oakland's public schools are heading into the New Year with an ambitious plan to curb a skyrocketing student suspension rate.

The vast majority of Oakland's suspended kids are African-American, even though they make up just a third of the school population.

Federal civil rights officials investigated the suspension rate. And that led the school district to adopt a plan requiring all teachers to use so-called "Restorative Justice" practices in the classroom.

That approach keeps kids in school, encouraging them to examine their attitudes and the impact of their behavior.

But faculty members like Benjie Achtenburg, who teaches eighth grade at Melrose Leadership Academy, says the district is not providing enough resources and training.

"Being a public school teacher in Oakland," Achtenburg says, "you are already overwhelmed by everything you have to do, no matter how many years you’ve taught in this district."

Superintendent Tony Smith says teacher buy-in is one of the district's big hurdles.

OUSD has five years to reverse the troubling discipline trend or face sanctions.

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