SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – Starting next school year principals and administrators may be banned from suspending students for “willful defiance” of teachers, staff, and administrators.
Senate Bill 419 bans schools from suspending students in grades 4-8 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.
The full Assembly voted to pass the bill Monday by a vote of 58-17, with four Assemblymembers not voting. The vote went along party lines.
A similar bill was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown last legislative session.
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.”
The Alliance for Boys and Men of Color supports the bill, writing:
“”SB 419 would eliminate disruption/defiance as grounds for suspensions for all grade levels and keep more students in schools. If SB 419 is not passed, students will continue to be subject to suspension based on disruption/defiance, which means students will be suspended from school and denied valuable learning time for anything from failing to turn in homework, not paying attention, refusing to follow directions, or swearing in class—including suspensions for just one isolated incident. Because it is so subjective, suspensions based on Section 48900(k) raise serious concerns about
their disproportionate impact on students of color and other vulnerable student groups— including students with disabilities and/or those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), and/or gender non-conforming. Research confirms that there is even greater disproportionality for students in these groups suspended for low level, subjective offenses, like defiance/disruption, compared to higher level, more objective offenses. SB 419 and the elimination of suspension for disruption/defiance will result in an overall reduction in suspensions and an increase in positive outcomes for students and the communities in which they live.”
The Charter School Development Center opposes the legislation, saying:
“”Charter schools were created to be public schools exempt from most sections of the California Education Code. Imposing unnecessary restrictions on these schools of choice is counterintuitive to the original intent of the legislature. Charter law requires each school’s petition to address issues of expulsion and this law would effectively overwrite the language of 1,300 charter petitions causing significant disruption at the local level. Further, this bill is based on no credible evidence of an expulsion problem in California charter schools. To the contrary, charter schools often serve as a school of last resort of students who have been expelled from traditional schools and these pupils thrive in a charter school environment.”
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.
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 schools from issuing willful defiance suspensions and expulsions.
If SB 419 does get signed into law it would start July 1, 2020.