Photo by 'woodleywonderworks'

Photo by 'woodleywonderworks'

Against the backdrop of a recent federal report showing African American students being disproportionately suspended or expelled from California schools, a flurry of bills have been introduced in the state Legislature over the past several weeks to reform California’s laws governing school discipline.

The range of bills introduced reflect the complexity of the issue, and point to the already extensive set of statutes in the California Education Code governing suspensions and expulsion in California schools. While the statutes governing the most serious threats to school safety require school districts to institute expulsion proceedings, the education code also gives local school districts considerable discretion over how to respond to most other student behaviors and discipline problems.

The chief sponsor of several of the bills was the Public Counsel Law Center, the Los Angeles-based public interest law firm. Other sponsors were the ACLU of Northern California, the Youth Law Center in San Francisco, and Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California.

One bill, Senate Bill 1235, introduced by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, would require, rather than encourage, schools to address high rates of suspension. Initially, the bill would only apply to schools that suspend 25 percent or more of their students, or a similar percentage of a numerically significant racial or ethnic group in a school. Under Steinberg’s bill, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction would be required to publish a list of schools with elevated suspensions rates, as well as strategies that appear to be working in reducing those rates.

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, is the author of Assembly Bill 1729 requiring school officials to use suspension as a last resort. Schools would have to document alternatives to suspension they had attempted to implement before the student was suspended, such as a restorative justice program or a “positive behavioral approach.” The purpose would be to address the “root causes of the pupil’s specific misbehavior.”

Another bill, Assembly Bill 2242, authored by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, takes on the largest single reason students are suspended — a loosely defined category known as “willful defiance.” Over 40 percent of suspended students fell into this category during the 2010-11 school year, according to Dickinson. His bill would bar school districts from giving students an “out of school” suspension for “willful defiance.” Instead, students could be sent to a specially supervised classroom in the school to serve out their suspension.

In a lengthy statement,  Dickinson explained the rationale for his legislation, including the following assertion:

Students who are subjected to out-of-school discipline not only lose important instructional time, they are far more likely to drop out of school and enter the juvenile delinquency system, at great cost to the state, than students whose problem behaviors are addressed proactively with research-based supports and interventions in school and with parents.

Assembly Bill 2145, also authored by Dickinson and Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, would require school districts to report data on expulsion and suspension broken down by race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, student enrollment, and other student characteristics.

Assembly Bill 2537, by Assemblyman Manual Perez, D-Coachella, would give districts the option of reporting certain suspensions and expulsions to local law enforcement. It would also give them the option of recommending suspension and expulsion, instead of being required to do so under other legislation. The bill would also limit the reasons for mandatory expulsion to students who possess a firearm or an explosive on campus or at a school activity off school grounds.

To give expelled students additional opportunities to succeed in school, Senator Current Price, D-LA, has introduced a bill, Senate Bill 1088, which would bar a school from denying enrollment or readmission to a school if the student has had contact with the juvenile justice system. It would also require a school board to make an additional reevaluation if it denies readmission of an expelled student.


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  1. Cindy says:

    Students are as variable as the teachers or the methods utilized. Some students excel in the teacher lecture mode. More frequently in the private sector; on-line, highly visual, self paced instruction has been proven to serve the largest variety of students. Why do we force such old fashioned methods on children? Why do we have to buy entire billion dollar texts to change a paragraph? So that Unions can continue to cry we need more teachers and staff. Why is the discipline in school so similar to the correction agency? Because so many school staff are willing to sacrafice an unruly child to become customers for the prison union. We need to overhaul the public school system. It serves a small percent of students who come out college ready but feeds a union who is hungry to control the world. Some students are not college bound and would be better served in a trade school early in life, like construction and beautitians as is done in Europe.

  2. The debate on this issue suffers from an important misunderstanding about the connection between the prevalence of an outcome and large relative differences in experiencing it. The rarer an outcome, the greater tends to be the relative difference in experiencing it and the smaller will tend to be the relative difference in avoiding it. For example, lowering a test cutoff, while reducing relative differences in pass rates, will tend to increase relative differences in failure rates. In the school discipline context, the less stringent the policy, while the smaller will tend to be the relative in avoiding discipline, the larger will tend to be the relative difference in discipline rates. Measures aimed a reducing overall discipline rates will tend to increase the relative differences in discipline rates that is prompting concern. See http://jpscanlan.com/disciplinedisparities.html

  3. plb says:

    Once again, many kids must sacrifice because of the few. Why is it that so many dollars must be focused on the few that are not willing to participate instead of those kids who are intelligent, want to learn, and better themselves? There are no longer restricted funds for GATE students but there seems to always be plenty of money for the kids who refuse to cooperate in their educational setting.

  4. Stephen Davis says:

    The issue of how to deal with misbehaving students has always been a challenge to school administrators. On the one hand, dangerous or harmful behaviors must not be allowed to disrupt learning and safety for other students or staff members. On the other hand, out of school suspension for many of the most troubled students is little more than a “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” A more reasonable alternative would be to provide school districts with the means to establish supervised alternative placements on campus. Only in the most egregious cases should a student be sent home for extended periods of time. Local law enforcement also has a stake in this discussion, since juveniles out of school commit a significant portion of daytime crimes in the community. Except in the worst cases, schools should not be in the “discipline business,” but rather, in the “behavioral modification business.” The greatest challenge faced by schools is not how to discipline bad behavior but how to teach student to discipline their own behavior.

  5. M. Dupin says:

    I do understand that other interventions should take place before suspension however, when there are no funds to support these interventions then what? In fairness to the students that are still in school trying to adhere to the rules and doing their best trying to learn, what is to be done with a student that directly defies the teacher, dean, administrator? Schools are not staffed to handle disruptive students, there are no study halls or guidance rooms. School counselors are at an approximate 500 to 1 ratio so who can help? Many of the problems that High schools face have a direct correlation to the funding received from the state for staffing. Staffing at our school is approximately (36) students to (1) teacher. It becomes very difficult to maintain a safe and orderly campus when there are students that belong to identified gangs and or have had a history of criminal behavior. To implement interventions requires qualified staff and finance both of which many districts cannot afford. With many of the difficult students parents either do not have control or expect us to impose discipline which leaves schools at a lose because how can a school control a high school student when a parent cannot?

  6. Amy Merickel says:

    I am a former ed policy researcher (AIR & WestEd) getting involved with restorative practices in SFUSD. I am very interested in your forthcoming policy guide on school discipline in CA, as well as the results of your related large-scale district survey. Please be sure to send them to me when it comes out.

    Many thanks,
    Amy