SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – Schools may no longer be able to suspend students for “willful defiance” if a new bill becomes law.

A similar bill was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown last legislative session.

Under the new version (Senate Bill 419), students in grades 4-8 wouldn’t be suspended for disrupting school activities or willfully defying school authorities, including teachers and staff. The bill would also ban schools from suspending students in grades 9-12 for the same thing until January 1, 2025. Existing law already prohibits schools from suspending children in grades K-3 for disrupting or willful defiance. Existing law also prevents schools from recommending the expulsion of students in all grades for disrupting or willful defiance. The law would apply to both public and charter schools.

Students could still be suspended or expelled for other acts, including threatening violence, bringing a weapon or drugs to school, or damaging school property.

As part of the new bill, superintendents or principals would be asked to provide alternatives to suspension or expulsion that are “age appropriate and designed to address and correct the pupil’s specific misbehavior.”

Research has shown the category of willful defiance was disproportionately used to discipline minority students, specifically African-Americans. Assembly Bill 420 was signed into law by Governor Brown in 2014, eliminating the expulsion option for schools.

During the 2014-2015 school year, according to the California Department of Education:

  • 243,603 students were suspended once or more
  • 79,168 students were suspended for willful defiance
  • 18-20% of willful defiance suspensions were issued to African-Americans
  • 5,692 students were expelled

A 2006 report by the US Department of Education found:

  • 28% of African-American middle school boys had been suspended at least once
  • 10% of White middle school boys had been suspended at least once
  • 18% of African-American middle school girls had been suspended at least once

The bill’s author, Senator Nancy Skinner (D-9th District), previously talked about the need for the bill, saying: “Under this highly subjective category, students are sent to an empty home, with no supervision, and denied valuable instructional time for anything from failing to turn in homework, not paying attention, or refusing to follow directions, taking off a coat or hat, or swearing in class.”

In Governor Brown’s veto message last year, he wrote in part:

“Teachers and principals are on the front lines educating our children and are in the best position to make decisions about order and discipline in the classroom. That’s why I vetoed a similar bill in 2012. In addition, I just approved $15 million in the 2018 Budget Act to help local schools improve their disciplinary practices. Let’s give educators a chance to invest that money wisely before issuing any further directives from the state.”

Pilot programs have been conducted in Orange County and Butte County and would provide the framework for the new statewide system. Several school districts, in San Francisco Unified, Los Angeles Unified, and Oakland Unified have already banned school from issuing willful defiance suspensions and expulsions.

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