Oakland Bans Suspensions Used to Target Students of Color

Being suspended for “willful defiance” sounds like something out of the 1950s — or military school — but until very recently, it was allowed in Oakland, Calif., schools. That will change in the 2016 school year, thanks to a ban handed down by the Oakland School Board. The move marks a growing shift in American education, with more and more schools recognizing racial disparities in school discipline and making efforts to address concerns about cutting students of color out of educational opportunities.

A free public education is supposed to be the right of all Americans, but currently, many students of color are having difficulty accessing just that. A primary contributing factor to the problem is a disparity in school discipline between students of color and white students. As in policing in the outside world, students of color are more likely to be targeted for discipline than their white peers, especially if they are disabled. They also face harsher penalties, including suspensions and expulsions. In addition to keeping kids out of the classroom, such policies feed into the school to prison pipeline, cutting education short and disadvantaging America’s youth of color.

What exactly is “willful defiance,” and what are the ramifications for California students? Edward Graham at Education Week explained in 2013, when the Los Angeles Unified School District passed a similar ban:

If the term seems a bit murky, that’s because it’s been used to lump together a variety of less severe disciplinary issues — students who talk back to their teachers, students who use their cellphones in class, public displays of affection, or repeated tardiness. Of the more than 700,000 suspensions that were doled out in the state of California during the 2011-2012 school year, almost half — that’s close to 350,000 suspensions — were given out for willful defiance issues.”

The purposefully vague term allowed teachers to effectively mete out discipline for any students who “talked back” or didn’t meet personal behavioral standards, creating a huge gray area for educators and districts alike. Since students of color are often unfairly profiled, as Julianne Hing explains at Colorlines, the result is a disproportionate number of them in suspension. Youth of color — especially Black youth — are often perceived as too noisy or disruptive, and they’re accused of having behavioral problems more than their white peers. With neatly half of students being given suspensions on the ground of vague language that’s almost eerily targeted at young men and women of color, “willful defiance” represented a serious problem.

Oakland is already on the hook for troubling racial disparities in schools, and this latest move reflects a push to address the problem. Students are glad to see it, as many note the problems with these kinds of suspensions and who gets off lightly when punishments are handed down.

The policy change is important for a district struggling with racial issues. Oakland is one among only a handful of California districts to extend such bans all the way through high school — the state already bans such suspensions in kindergarten through third grade. It’s one among many steps the state’s educators will have to take, however, to address yawning disparities in access to education, graduate rates and college attendance.

Photo credit: Fonna Seidu


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Ernest R.
Ernest R3 years ago

When black "students" are [often] being suspended by black teachers, is it still racism ?

Tonya lee
Sean Bergen3 years ago

Here we go again. Every time you open an article about race, the racist and otherwise warped-minded snakes lace the comments section with their racist propaganda. They Never miss an opportunity to spread Hatred. I believe most people on Care2 would like to keep this site Hate Free.

Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell3 years ago


Julie Cannon
Julie C3 years ago


Rb Redmond
Rb Redmond3 years ago

Problem is, FBI reports show 49% of crimes committed in the US are committed by whites who comprise 67% of the total population of the US, while the other 49% is committed by the group who comprise only 12-13% of this country's crimes who are black. That means a crime is 4-5 times more likely to have been committed by a black than any other demographical category across our country. So if it seems blacks are being targetted 4-5 times more than whites or any other demographical group are, that's well within the range of reality. If you don't like the results, make a change in the families and communities these children are growing up in. Once the get to high school, unless they're very smart, strong and determined, their lives are pretty much set for hardship and crime.

Here's proof what I'm saying is true.



Danuta Watola
Danuta W3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Hussein Khalil
Hussein Khalil3 years ago


Donn M.
.3 years ago

So how will they handle the little shitheads now?

Will Rogers
Will R3 years ago

That's it, find any excuse to exclude them! Does the punishment really fit the crime? I don't think so! If they 'cared' for these students they would be trying to help them. Are there programs in place so they can continue to be educated, or are they just thrown on the same scrap heap their parents were forced to live in? We know about the schools to prisons pipeline. We see the generations of terrorism forced on black students and adults, the intolerant way they are routinely treated, the traffic stops, the put downs and the sneering, the exclusionary tactics that we would not do to our own. Many posters here of course deny that there are problems, or admit to there being problems but seem too lazy to explore solutions because these students are non white so are deemed to be inferior and not worthy of the effort. That's why sometimes I love this forum! ...and this is one the liberal ones! European America's base level of bigotry and tolerance is on a par with pre WW2 European nazi-ism with a touch of crazy Catholicism! The U.S. is about 60 years behind most of Europe. Maybe if they concentrated on their own poverty and problems instead of sticking their noses into everyone else's, constantly at war and obsessed with other countries cultures and natural resources while squandering their own resources in a permanent state of warfare to bolster their own egos. They claim to promote peace while producing and selling weapons to everyone like some sort of inner city gunrunner impo