Posted on April 25, 2008

Oakland: When School Bullies Get out of Hand

Nanette Asimov, San Francisco Chronicle, April 24, 2008

Anthony Cataldo of Oakland first raised concerns about aggressive bullying at his son’s elementary school last year after Zachary lost four teeth on the playground—but he said he received only a verbal assurance that things would change.

Cataldo said he complained again when some boys at school kicked 7-year-old Zachary in the stomach three months ago but got no response.

Now—two days after an older student slammed Zachary against a tree, fracturing his skull and sending the first-grader to intensive care—Cataldo is hiring a lawyer, and school officials are paying attention.


State records show that Piedmont Avenue Elementary is Oakland’s second-most-violent elementary school, recording 97 suspensions last year for violence—including nine involving a weapon.

That level of danger is higher than at most middle and high schools in the district as well.


It happened after school as Zachary waited for a ride. As he tells it, “a fifth-grader picked me up, and he body-slammed me into a tree.”


A girl who witnessed the attack said it was unprovoked, Cataldo said.


Zachary was clammy and lethargic. [Zachary’s after-school caregiver, Arhonda Morris] put him in her truck and picked up Cataldo. At the hospital, Zachary began vomiting. A CT scan revealed a skull fracture, so doctors whisked him into intensive care, hoping to avoid surgery.


His father said that in kindergarten last year, Zachary was on the playground when some fifth-graders who had been sent out of class for disciplinary reasons approached him and lifted him up.

“One was spinning Zachary around,” Cataldo said. Then he let go.


“I got reassurance from his principal that nothing like this would happen again,” Cataldo said. But three months ago, “he was kicked in the stomach by an older kid.


He said he has also seen unsupervised youngsters running around wildly in the morning before school when he has dropped off Zachary a few minutes early.

Saddler [Denise Saddler, an Oakland Unified School District administrator in charge of elementary schools in North and West Oakland] confirmed that elementary students across the district are often unsupervised unless they are enrolled in before- or after-school programs.


Cataldo, meanwhile, said he was stunned to learn that Piedmont Avenue’s suspensions for violence last year were among the highest of the district’s 59 elementary schools. Only Preparatory Literary Academy in West Oakland, with 106, had more.

“I just find that astounding, because we’re talking about elementary kids up to the age of 11,” he said. “It’s scary, is what it is.”


 Students by Ethnicity 

 This School 

 CA School Average 

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% Hispanic



% Black



% White



% Unknown