Seven bills that collectively will shift thinking on how California schools discipline students will likely land on the governor’s desk at the end of the current legislative session on Friday.
Although the bills no longer mandate changes that their authors originally envisioned, “they start to lay out alternatives to suspensions and expulsions,” said Erika Hoffman, a lobbyist for the California School Boards Association (CSBA). “These bills set out a process for how teachers, administrators, and school board members can begin to think about discipline differently.”
The new laws emphasize a more constructive approach to discipline, such as working with students and parents to tackle the root causes of the disruptive behavior and requiring students to make amends instead of simply removing them from school.
The bills are aimed at changing punitive discipline policies that have led to a disproportionate number of African American and Latino students facing suspensions and expulsions.
“California issues more suspensions than diplomas each year,” said Laura Faer, an attorney with Public Counsel Law Center, a pro bono law firm based in Los Angeles that is the chief sponsor of many of the bills.
The bills fall short of requiring districts to embrace the more positive methods because legislators are wary of creating mandates that the state would have to fund.
Funding training for teachers and administrators in the new disciplinary approaches is the hard part, Hoffman said. “We are having a hard time funding just about anything. But it’s a goal we can all work for.”
Although CSBA and the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) originally opposed the bills, they now support the amended versions. Laura Preston, a lobbyist for ACSA, said she hopes to work with Public Counsel and other proponents to provide training to administrators and do it “without the heavy-handed approach” of a mandate when districts are struggling to make ends meet.
Faer said the amendments, though a compromise, should help all schools focus on “solutions to discipline that hold students accountable and keep schools safe, while also improving attendance and achievement.”
By the end of the legislative session on Monday, five of the bills had passed the major legislative hurdles before being sent to the governor, and the remaining two appear likely to be approved by the Legislature by the end of the week. Faer is hopeful the bills will become law, saying her organization has been working closely with the governor’s office on the amendments.
The bills that have passed the major legislative hurdles include:
- Senate Bill (SB) 1088, introduced by Sen. Curren D. Price, Jr., D-Los Angeles, prohibits public schools from “denying enrollment or readmission to a pupil solely on the basis that he or she has had contact with the juvenile justice system.”
- SB 1235, introduced by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, Sen. Price, and Sen. Michael J. Rubio, D-Bakersfield, encourages a school district where the number of pupils receiving off-campus suspensions in the prior year exceeded 25 percent of either its total enrollment or of a numerically significant subgroup to implement positive behavioral interventions or other strategies designed to address the school climate. The bill also requires the superintendent of public instruction to invite such schools to attend a regional forum to provide assistance and training in positive approaches to discipline.
- Assembly Bill (AB) 2537, introduced by Assemblymember V. Manuel Perez, D-Coachella, gives more flexibility to school administrators in deciding whether to expel students for possessing a controlled substance or an imitation firearm. It also no longer requires administrators to notify police if a student is disciplined for unlawful activity.
- AB 1729, introduced by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, would authorize administrators to use “alternatives to suspension or expulsion that are age appropriate and designed to address and correct the pupil’s specific misbehavior.” It would also authorize districts to document the other means of correction used and to place that documentation in the student’s record. Other interventions include a positive behavior support approach, a conference with the parent and student, or participation in a restorative justice program in which the student makes amends to anyone he or she has harmed.
- AB 2616, introduced by Assemblymember Wilmer Amina Carter, D-Rialto, gives school administrators the discretion to address each individual student’s circumstances for being absent, including investigating the root causes for the student missing school. It also provides a different approach when classifying students as truant.
The following bills are likely to be approved by the Legislature:
- AB 1909, introduced by Assemblymember Ammiano, requires the agency that places a child in foster care to notify the education liaison of the child’s school district at the time of placement, and requires the agency to invite the pupil’s attorney to any disciplinary hearing that may involve expulsion if the expulsion is not required by law.
- AB 2242, introduced by Assemblymember Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, prevents administrators from expelling or giving an extended suspension for students who have “willfully defied” authority or “disrupted school activities.” Currently, about 40 percent of all suspensions fall under willful defiance or disrupting school activities, according to Dickinson. The bill also clarifies what constitutes “electronic bullying” by phone, computer, or pager.
One bill that had widespread support, AB 2145, introduced by Assemblymembers Dickinson and Luis A. Alejo, D-Salinas, did not pass. The bill would have required school districts to provide data on expulsions and suspensions broken down by race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and other student characteristics. The bill would have cost $150,000 to implement and $30,000 each year, according to the Department of Finance, whose opposition made some legislators reluctant to support it.