KOVR-TV, April 23, 2019
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.