Amended versions of key discipline bills move forward

Three key bills aimed at changing school discipline policies were approved in the state Assembly before the summer recess and will be ready for a final vote on the Senate floor when legislators return from their recess in August. But in the process, the bills have been softened to give districts more discretion to implement harsher punishments than the authors originally intended (see chart below).

The California School Boards Association (CSBA) and Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), representing constituencies that would have to administer the laws, had opposed all three bills in their original form, but have withdrawn their opposition to two of them.

Both groups still oppose Assembly Bill (AB) 2242, introduced by Assemblymember Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento), which, though amended, still retains some of its punch. The bill seeks to reduce the number of expulsions and out-of-school suspensions due to “willful defiance” or “disrupting school activities.” This loosely defined category now accounts for more than 40 percent of the suspensions statewide, according to Dickinson.

Before it was amended, the bill would have prevented administrators from giving students an off-campus suspension for being defiant or disruptive. As it currently stands, administrators would not be able to expel offending students or give them out-of-school suspensions for more than five days. (Students in some schools serve suspensions in special on-campus classrooms.)

Laura Faer of Public Counsel, a pro bono law firm based in Los Angeles that sponsored this bill, said from 8 percent to 12 percent of expulsions were done under this provision of the law. The state Department of Education reported a total of 18,649 expulsions in 2010-11.

Laura Preston, a lobbyist for ACSA, said she objected to AB 2242 because many districts, due to budget cuts, have eliminated the teacher who handled in-school suspensions. She is also concerned that administrators would no longer have the option to remove a student who has disrupted school activities.

CSBA and ACSA are now neutral on AB 1729, introduced by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco). The bill would have required school officials to document alternatives to suspension they had implemented before the student was suspended.

The authors amended the bill so it now “authorizes” districts to use alternative methods and describes what some of those methods could be. The word “require” has been eliminated.

The two groups are also neutral on the current version of AB 2537, introduced by Assemblymember V. Manuel Perez (D-Coachella). The original bill intended to give administrators discretion in whether to expel students except in the most severe cases, such as bringing a firearm or explosive to school. Under current law, administrators must immediately suspend and seek to expel students who bring a firearm, imitation firearm, or explosive to school, brandish a knife, sexually assault someone, or possess or sell a controlled substance.

The bill would soften current law slightly, giving administrators discretion in disciplining a student for possessing a controlled substance or an imitation firearm.

Either the Assembly or Senate Appropriations committees are considering three other bills, one of which is opposed by CSBA and ACSA.

Senate Bill 1235, introduced by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), and two other senators, would require schools that have suspended more than 25 percent of their students – or a similar percentage of a numerically significant subgroup – to reduce that rate beginning in 2013–14. The bill was amended to clarify that the author was talking about off-campus suspensions.

The two organizations object to what they see as a mandate without any funding provided. The bill will be considered in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

ACSA’s Preston said she is not happy with any of the bills. “I do think we over-suspend and have these policies that are inflexible,” she said. “But I don’t think the bills piece well together.”

Preston also argues that no funds have been allocated in the legislation to train teachers and administrators in alternative approaches to discipline. “What good are changes in statutes if people aren’t trained?” she asked.

However, Public Counsel’s Faer believes the bills are a step forward in changing the “punitive” approach to discipline under current law. “If we want to reframe the dialogue and consider alternative ways to hold students accountable and keep our schools safe,” she said, start by changing the Education Code.

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3 Responses to “Amended versions of key discipline bills move forward”

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  1. Jerry Heverly on Aug 10, 2012 at 7:58 am08/10/2012 7:58 am

    • 000

    The most heated ‘discussions’ we have at our high school involve this issue and I’m extremely curious about how these mandates from the legislature will play out at our school.
    Teachers at our site constantly complain to administrators about “soft” treatment of aggressive kids. My sense is that teachers would prefer more suspensions not fewer. Our school, near Oakland, has pluralities of African-American and Latino students. The suspension rates for these two subgroups is very, very far above the rates for White and Asian students. I don’t have the numbers but I’d wager that nearly 90% of our suspensions are among the AA and Latino groups. When an Asian kid gets suspended it’s big news.
    But it’s clear the legislature wants this changed. I can understand why.
    My suspicion is, though, that whatever the state decides to do, in the real world of day-to-day administration nothing fundamentally will change. Probably suspensions will be replaced by some sort of in-school isolation or maybe an increased use of “home study” where problem students are given work to do on their own.
    As a teacher I’m caught in a lose-lose world. Because of tracking nearly all my White and Asian students are together in the upper track classes; nearly all my minority kids are in the lower track. 100% of my disciplinary referrals are in the lower track rooms.
    Grouping alienated kids together pretty much guarantees that my office referrals (which sometimes lead to suspensions) will be for minority students.
    There are kids in the lower track classes that privately beg me to write more referrals to disruptive kids so that they can learn. But I know this will aggravate the already-severe racial divide in my school.
    Clearly the state legislature thinks there are alternative ways of dealing with this problem. I wish I knew what those alternatives were.
    Parent contacts don’t work very often for truly disaffected (minority) students. We have one school psychologist for 2,500 students.
    My guess is that, if I were to ask a legislator about this, he or she would tell me to be a better teacher. My answer would be, I try, but I suspect that would simply lead to an argument about teacher evaluations and the like.
    My basic point, though, is that mandates to reduce African-American and Latino suspensions will likely lead to no true reform. For that to happen you would need societal changes that were so massive that they would fundamentally change our whole society.

  2. Navigio on Jul 19, 2012 at 6:01 pm07/19/2012 6:01 pm

    • 000

    Well, to the extent students are repeat offenders (see recent article on toped indicating they mostly are) then exclusionary discipline in the form of expulsions absolutely does make a school safer. And while it is likely true the out of school suspensions have the potential to create a greater risk to safety in the long run (just as sending a first time offender to prison likely does nothing more than teach them how to be better criminals as well as lower their future options), it will be difficult to convince parents that the solution to that is more in school punishment as opposed to a harder line that includes a lower barrier to expulsions or alternative exclusionary methods.
    Personally I don’t think this issue will ever be resolved through discussions because there are too many people who don’t know what actually happens in our schools. And perhaps more importantly, the level of acceptance of disruptive and/or dangerous behavior differs dramatically from family to family. So while such methods may do things to increase vague measures like graduation rate, they likely do so at the expense of some other benefit, which ironically might even increase graduation rates (and those other measures even more).
    I would also like to understand what ‘frequently’ relates to in percentages (in reference to school administrators who were unaware of their obligations).

  3. Julia Mendoza on Jul 19, 2012 at 4:37 pm07/19/2012 4:37 pm

    • 000

    This is a wonderful article that outlines the important recent school discipline legislation. However, I wanted to clarify the statement that states that the bill “now ‘authorizes’ districts to use alternative methods”. AB1729 instead REAFFIRMS the right superintendents and principals have to use other means of correction prior to the use of exclusionary discipline. This language was added because in our local advocacy work, school administrators frequently told us that they were unaware of their obligation in most instances to use a variety of alternatives to suspension and expulsion.

    This bill is necessary because California is failing to graduates students at an alarming rate, in part, because our state laws encourage ineffective school discipline. Superintendents and principals deal with discipline almost exclusively through suspension or expulsion despite research which correlates exclusionary discipline with lower academic achievement, lower graduation rates and increased pupil dropout rates—all without making campuses safer.

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