More than half of suspensions are for "willful defiance" of school authorities

More than half of all suspensions and a quarter of expulsions in California schools are for “willful defiance” of school authorities, according to a new database that State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson is scheduled to release this Friday.

Until now, only very limited data on school suspensions and expulsions by school were available to researchers and others attempting to understand and address school discipline issues. The database represents a major step forward in providing a detailed portrait of who is suspended and expelled, and for what discipline violation.

The new database shows that African American students, who make up only 6.5 percent of public school students, comprise 19 percent of all suspensions. By contrast, white students make up 26 percent of student enrollment, but only  20 percent of suspensions. Latino students are suspended at approximately the same level as their proportion of the total student enrollment.

California Department of Education officials provided a preview of some of the new data at a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Delinquency Prevention and Youth Development chaired by Assemblymember Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento. “The California data is long overdue and I am very pleased that the department has collected the data and is releasing it,” he said.

Legislation authored by Dickinson (AB 420) that will restrict the use of the ill-defined “willful defiance” category to suspend and expel students will be considered by the Assembly Education Committee today. Dickinson said that until the new figures were released, previous data had shown that “willful defiance” accounted for around 43 percent of suspensions. “Frankly it is startling,” he said. “If it is as high as 53 percent, it only underscores the need to address the use of willful defiance as a basis for suspensions and expulsions.”

The new database, collected as part of the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS), will for the first time provide a breakdown of suspensions and expulsions at a school, district and county level, as well by students’ ethnic and racial backgrounds, whether they are English Learners or are special education students, and by which education codes their discipline violations fell under.

Another limitation of existing data has been that the state could only report on the total number of suspensions, rather than how many individual students had been suspended.

In the 2011-12 school year, there were 710,869 in-school and out-of-school suspensions in California schools, but many students were suspended more than once. The new database shows that a total of 366,629 students were suspended during that year – a suspension rate of approximately 6 percent. That means that about one in 16 of all public school students were suspended at least once during the school year. Because students are suspended much more frequently in high school, suspension rates for grades 9-12 are likely to be far higher than that.

Keric Ashley, director of the Department of Education’s Analysis, Measurement and Accounting Reporting Division, cautioned that since the data are new, they should be the “starting point, not the ending point” for discussion.





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19 Responses to “More than half of suspensions are for "willful defiance" of school authorities”

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  1. Jay on Aug 14, 2013 at 5:55 pm08/14/2013 5:55 pm

    • 000

    Is it more important to keep the student in class who is causing the other 30 students to loose education time because of he race, or is it more important to kick out the offender to better give the others the education they deserve?


    • navigio on Aug 15, 2013 at 9:27 am08/15/2013 9:27 am

      • 000

      It’s a mistake to assume the only two alternatives are to keep the ‘disruptive’ student in class while doing nothing differently and kicking that student out while doing nothing differently. Oh, were everything in life so simple, let alone public education policy.

  2. Paul on Apr 18, 2013 at 1:10 pm04/18/2013 1:10 pm

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    That’s an excellent point, CarolineSF. Charters use certain techniques to shape their student populations, and are then free to enact discipline policies different from Ed Code 48900. Maintaining discipline becomes a much easier task for charters than for district-run schools.

  3. CarolineSF on Apr 18, 2013 at 10:12 am04/18/2013 10:12 am

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    Last time I checked, Oakland Military Institute’s website made its selective admissions policies clear, too. That just needs to be part of the discussion.

  4. Paul on Apr 18, 2013 at 8:50 am04/18/2013 8:50 am

    • 000

    You are exactly right, Skeptic. Teachers and administrators in district-run schools need the flexibility afforded by the 48900(k) disruption/defiance provision, and the choice between 1- to 2-period teacher-initiated in-school or 1- to 5-day administrator-initiated out-of-school suspensions.

    When legislators talk about alternatives, they should consider a dual-path approach that preserves suspension but grants specific legal authorization for penalties relevant to young people. Remove the kid from class (1 to 2 periods) or from school (1 to 5 days) so that instruction can continue, then impose a penalty that will actually motivate the kid to do better.

    A calm chat about “restorative justice”, with an afable assistant principal who shares his granola bar with you and puts his arm around you to comfort you (true story), motivates a young person to continue misbehaving. (“I get to leave my boring math class and hang with that cool AP, who was a high school football star!”) No parking space for the resr of the year, immediate removal from clubs and sports teams, a requirement to leave campus at 3:15 every day, loss of locker privileges, loss of non-instructional computer access, and a canpus cleaning detail are examples of penalties that would motivate changes to a young person’s behavior. Unfortunately, school districts would be on very shaky legal ground if they routinely carried out any of these punishments. One call from a litigious parent would put a stop to it. Public Advocates would have a field day!

    By the way, an interesting model of charter school discipline is the merit/demerit point system at the Oakland Military Institute. The system offers rewards and punishments, and features cumulative documentation. One limitation is that cadets don’t lose privileges in the military activity sphere for bad behavior in the classroom sphere.


  5. Paul on Apr 17, 2013 at 6:13 pm04/17/2013 6:13 pm

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    Skeptic — Charter schools can elect to use Ed Code suspension and expulsion provisions or adopt other discipline policies. Often, a charter board will enact a vague discipline policy but staff members, some of whom inevitably come from district-run schools, will still follow Section 48900 because it is familiar.

    I am defending teachers’ right to issue in-school suspensions and administrators’ right to issue out-of-school suspensions, mainly because removing problem students makes it possible to continue teaching the rest of the class. I realize, however, that suspension does not deter problem students: most relish a chance to leave the classroom for a period or two, to say nothing of the chance to stay home without supervision for one or more days. Can you say Bueller?

    Because they have the authority to supersede Section 48900, charter schools have a unique opportunity to establish strict discipline policies. Unfortunately, the kind of discipline that we saw at American Indian (I realize that the AIM charter schools had other flaws, of course) is all too rare.

    It would be downright neat to see charters punish students for low grades, incomplete homework, etc. The Ed Code does not allow school districts to punish students for those reasons. And charters, unlike school districts, would have solid legal grounds for punishments that would truly affect students, such as physical labor/clean-up duty, loss of all field trip and extra-curricular privileges, loss of before- and after-school campus access, etc.


    • Skeptic on Apr 18, 2013 at 7:59 am04/18/2013 7:59 am

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      Paul, the problem I see is that once again the legislature might put more restrictions/rules on ed code bound public schools while letting charter schools do whatever they want.

  6. Skeptic on Apr 17, 2013 at 5:41 pm04/17/2013 5:41 pm

    • 000

    The proposed legislation is an amendment of Section 48900 of the Education Code. Does that section apply to charter schools?

  7. Gary Ravani on Apr 17, 2013 at 1:49 pm04/17/2013 1:49 pm

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    This should be an interesting experiment in dealing with “cognitive dissonance” where the outcomes will leave classroom teachers holding the bag. There are two intersecting trends here: 1) holding schools/teachers accountable for putting a stop to bullying; and 2) to stop suspending/expelling consistently disruptive students who exhibit “willful defiance.”

    So what are schools/teachers to do with students who are willfully defiant and refuse to stop bullying other students? Whatever the schools/teacher do about either will, quite obviously, be the “wrong” answer and there will be cries to hold someone (guess who?) accountable.

    School, legally, act in “loco parentis” and have the right/obligation to see that students follow reasonable rules to insure to the safety of other students as well as maintain a well ordered learning environment for all. Some students, for various reasons, can’t operate in a reasonable environment. The better alternative to suspensions is putting them into a special learning environment with specialists in behavior/emotional issues. This is incredibly hard to do in a state that is next to last of the 50 states in funding per student.

  8. LT on Apr 17, 2013 at 1:40 pm04/17/2013 1:40 pm

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    CarolineSF, I could not AGREE more if I had said it myself. Perhaps, as and education community we should do more awareness of Oppositional Defiance Disorder, the emotional affects of being drug infected as a baby. Perhaps, we should say that culturally there are differences, they are real. It is how we are raised, we fight, we have anger issues , we don’t let anybody TELL us what to do other than our parents and grandparents. We become very scary to the establishment in as early 3rd grade. No different than someone being afraid of us in an elevator or clutching your purse when we walk by. It is real, There is no intent to harm, no intent to discriminate, to treat differently, to do a bad thing, But what is bad , what is harmful is not accepting that it is real, that their are real cultural and physical issues and not responding accordingly.


    • Manuel on May 2, 2013 at 10:12 am05/2/2013 10:12 am

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      “Cultural differences?” What exactly does that mean? That a child cannot be told how to behave in a classroom because the teacher is not a parent or grandparent? That’s totally silly and a recipe for chaos.

      Learning cannot take place when the students do not follow the orders of the teachers necessary for classroom management. If the student is unwilling to follow instructions, why should others then be subject to the interruption of their learning process?

      What do you propose instead, LT?

      (BTW, the old way of raising children in minority communities was with the rod. That was also the school’s. But those times are gone and deservedly so. We need another way and communities and the usual suspects won’t collaborate and simply pass the buck to the teachers.)

  9. Paul on Apr 17, 2013 at 1:18 pm04/17/2013 1:18 pm

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    Richard, I think you’ve misunderstood the list of allowable reasons for suspension.

    The disruption/defiance provision at CA Ed Code 48900(k) is in no way comparable to a generic charge of “resisting arrest”. It was not meant to give teachers unlimited authority. Rather, it exists because it would be impossible for legislators to enumerate all possible kinds of serious misbehavior. The other allowable reasons in 48900 are specific and dramatic — drugs, robbery, guns, and so on.

    To pick an example, I once had an unhappy third-grade student who stood up and deliberately reversed his two-person desk, definitively stopping imstruction for the whole class and putting all of the students around him in physical danger. Those steel-framed, solid-wood-topped 1950s desks are extremely heavy! Legislators didn’t anticipate reversing a heavy desk as an allowable reason for me to remove the student from the class for an hour (in-school suspension), so that he could cool off. Without 48900(k), it would have been illegal for me to send him out of the classroom.

    If you’ve ever taught in a California public school, you will recognize that there are lesser, but still valid, reasons to suspend students than drugs, robbery and guns. By opposing 48900(k), you are proposing to allow suspension only for very dramatic reasons. Would you want your son or daughter stuck next to an out-of-control, violent third-grader for an hour?

  10. ReilleyFam on Apr 17, 2013 at 12:45 pm04/17/2013 12:45 pm

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    I was “willfully defiant” right up until I graduated from Berkeley.

  11. Jerry Heverly on Apr 17, 2013 at 12:12 pm04/17/2013 12:12 pm

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    Johnny is a troubled kid who gets into fights often. He’s been warned and given detentions but he refuses to go to them. One day Johnny decides he wants to sit next to his buddy instead of his assigned seat. The teacher asks/tells him to return to his proper seat. He refuses. The teacher calls an administrator for help. They can’t get Johnny to move, either. They try to get him to go to another room to sit quietly but he refuses to get up. The students in the room watch carefully to see if the school can enforce its own rules. Johnny says nothing, does nothing, other than refuse to leave the seat he’s in.
    The teacher and administrator want to suspend him for three days for willful defiance, but they can’t under new state guidelines.
    What should they do?

  12. Richard Moore on Apr 17, 2013 at 11:42 am04/17/2013 11:42 am

    • 000

    “Willful defiance” is the kind of fallback rule that allows control to take the place of dealing with a situation. You can go through police records and find the same pattern of arrests for “Resisting Arrest.”

    Arguing is the attempt to give another side, and those in charge don’t want another side, they want obedience. And they want it in an atmosphere that has no time for argument. And they have the power to enforce their will. This is not a learning environment.


    • Manuel on May 2, 2013 at 10:17 am05/2/2013 10:17 am

      • 000

      What is an ideal learning environment in your opinion, Mr. Moore? One where every student makes their own decisions on when to follow the rules of a classroom? Should teachers engage in endless negotiations with those who want to argue? What about those who just want to continuously interrupt, either because they have an undiagnosed condition or just plainly want attention? Can this be put into state law in a manner that would please you?

      I agree that a rigidly controlled classroom where students keep their nose to the grindstone can lead to mental and physical abuse, but there must be some modicum of classroom control. Else there won’t be any learning for anybody.

  13. Paul on Apr 17, 2013 at 8:33 am04/17/2013 8:33 am

    • 000

    Well said, CarolineSF.

    I would add that vacating the “willfull defiance” section of the Education Code would block not only out-of-school suspensions, but also teacher-initiated in-school suspensions, which politicians always seem to offer as the alternative response to minor misbehavior. (Outsiders to the classroom believe that disrupting a class is a minor matter.) The code sections for administrator-initiated out-of-school and teacher-initiated in-school suspensions both refer to the same list of allowable reasons.

    Finally, given the state of paper and online discipline records in the middle and high schools where I’ve taught, and the veil of secrecy surrounding discipline, I doubt that there could be reliable aggregate data about suspensions.

    Some referral forms are never returned by the administration, and only a fraction are entered into the discipline module of the online student information system (e.g. Aeries/ABI). Some districts don’t own such modules, and some schools simply don’t use them.

    When there is a severe and persistent discipline problem, the administration usually doesn’t disclose its disciplinary decisions to the teacher(s) involved. Many severe offenses are handled informally, without suspesion, to make administrators look good and feel good. Teachers are strongly discouraged from referring students; non-reelection and/or bad evaluations are threatened. If my experience is typical, then the already incomplete suspension data are skewed in favor of easy, minor cases.

  14. CarolineSF on Apr 16, 2013 at 10:48 pm04/16/2013 10:48 pm

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    I deplore insensitivity to cultural differences, of course. But everyone who has ANYTHING to do with dealing with this needs to spend some serious — SERIOUS — time in diverse, high-poverty classrooms in non-selective schools (not charters!) before they try to deal further with the issue. I mean Roger Dickinson, everyone writing for EdSource today and all other journalists and legislators who are addressing this issue. I’ll just start by saying they won’t see any simple answers.

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