Target: Oakland Unified School District Superintendent, Tony Smith
Goal: Applaud Oakland schools in their efforts to find more effective alternatives to zero-tolerance policies
The idea of zero-tolerance in schools in the United States was implemented to promote safety for all students, and typically revolves around drug or weapon possession. When a zero-tolerance policy is properly followed, a student or faculty member who breaks school rules is immediately punished, often in the form of suspension or expulsion. Over time, these types of policies have been the subject of scrutiny as instances of questionable punishments became more and more common. Recently, Oakland Unified School District, or OUSD, in California was under investigation by the Department of Education for an alarmingly disproportionately high number of African American students who were being suspended or expelled under zero-tolerance policies. The school district decided to reevaluate its method of handling students’ misbehavior and began turning to alternatives to zero-tolerance policies.
One such school, Ralph J. Bunche High School, has begun efforts to build better, stronger relationships between students and faculty that revolves around students coming up with “meaningful reparations for their wrongdoing while challenging them to develop empathy for one another.” This is often achieved through “talking circles” in which students are able to express the reasons behind their behaviors. During one such session, a female student who had punched another female student out of what appeared to be jealousy revealed that her anger was in fact directly related to the recent murder of her brother. Sadly, her story is not unique. Oakland is a “terribly violent community,” according to Chief Executive of the Urban Strategies Council, Junious Williams, and many kids have not been taught how to effectively deal with the negative emotions that violence can leave behind.
Zero-tolerance policies have been found by various studies to not necessarily increase safety in schools. Furthermore, these policies do not facilitate change. According to one student who had been suspended over 15 times, being unable to catch up after missing school increased his desire to “mess up even more.” The new methods that have been instated in Oakland schools promote real, societal change, as well as understanding and respect amongst students and faculty members. Commend the Oakland Unified School District for its efforts to find more effective alternatives to zero-tolerance policies and thereby promote understanding and respect.
Dear Superintendent Tony Smith,
The efforts by Oakland Unified School District to shift from ineffective and often detrimental zero-tolerance policies are highly commendable. By allowing a safe space for students to relate to one another and faculty members, Oakland schools provide much needed understanding and respect amongst their students and staff. Furthermore, by providing a means for students to express their emotions and find meaningful punishments, discipline is more easily facilitated as well as vastly more effective.
Studies have shown that zero-tolerance policies do not necessarily make schools safer. In fact, they often lead to the wrongful discipline of individuals, regardless of the result this may have on the student’s educational future. By finding alternatives to these policies, Oakland Unified School District has set an example for other schools across the nation.
Thank you for making schools safer through the cultivation of understanding and respect, and for ensuring that discipline is carried out justly.
[Your Name Here]
Photo Credit: Ajari via Wikimedia Commons