In their first meeting of the 2012-13 school year, Oakland Unified School District board members decided Wednesday evening to postpone one of the highly anticipated items on the agenda: a discussion about the district’s response to a federal inquiry into the disciplining of African American male students.
School superintendant Tony Smith said that both staff and board members had agreed to postpone until Sept. 27 any action on the “voluntary resolution,” as Smith called it, that the district has been developing in response to a complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. Since last May, the Department of Education been investigating assertions that Oakland is disproportionately disciplining black students within the public schools.
After the postponement was announced, a handful of attendees left the OUSD meeting, at the district’s Paul Robeson building headquarters, and the school board moved to other business: recent school closures, budget cuts, and complaints of inadequate attention to programs for students with special needs.
Smith said the results of the California Standards Test had been delayed, which in turn would delay the school district’s statistical analysis for the 2011-2012 school year. He made passing reference to last year’s controversial closure of five schools, a move board members said was required for budgetary reasons. But he also praised improvements in some schools, including Sankofa Academy in North Oakland, along with what Smith called the school “across the street,” a reference to remodeled La Escuelita Elementary School.
“It looks nice on the outside,” said Joel Velasquez, an Oakland parent who has been vocal in the school closure debates, in reaction to Smith’s statement about La Escuelita Elementary. “Let’s worry more about what’s going on in the inside.”
Velasquez, along with a number of attendees, shared concerns about the financial situation of Oakland’s public schools.
“Chicago teachers are showing the way forward,” said Edna M. Brewer Middle School teacher Mark Airgood, referring to the teacher’s strike in Chicago. “That’s what we need here in Oakland.”
Airgood and a group of other educators at the meeting voiced their objections to new policies obliging special needs teachers to teach at multiple sites. “The students are being shafted,” said OUSD Resource Specialist Naomi Katz. “They aren’t getting the education they deserve.”
In other matters, the district approved replacing Oakland’s anti-bullying policy with an updated version that officials said adheres more closely to state and federal regulations on bullying in schools.
OUSD board members are slated to address the examination of African American boys and school discipline at their meeting on September 27 at 5pm.