SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – The California State Senate voted to ban schools and principals from suspending students for “willful defiance” of teachers, staff, and administrators.

The Senate approved SB 419 Monday by a vote of 30-8. It moves to the Assembly next.

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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. The law would apply to both public and charter schools.

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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.

Students could still be suspended or expelled for other acts, including threatening violence, bringing a weapon or drugs to school, or damaging school property. Teachers could also still be allowed to “suspend pupils from class for the day and the following day who disrupt school activities or otherwise willfully defied valid
authority of supervisors, teachers, administrators, school officials, or other school personnel engaged in the performance of their duties.”

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.”

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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. It took effect on January 1, 2015.

In the 2015-16 school year, 96,421 students suspended for willful defiance – a decrease of nearly 30,000 from 2014-15 school year. Willful defiance suspensions accounted for 24% of total suspensions statewide that school year. Willful defiance suspensions made up 20% of all suspensions in the 2016-17 school year, and 14% in the 2017-18 school year.

African-American students made up 5.6% of enrollment in California schools in 2017-18, but accounted for 15.6% of willful defiance suspensions. Conversely, white students made up 23.2% of statewide enrollment but made up only 20.2% of willful defiance suspensions.

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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.”

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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