Gov. Jerry Brown signed three of the bills calling for alternatives to student suspensions and expulsions, and vetoed a fourth. Two other measures are still awaiting his action.
The governor approved AB 1729 by San Francisco Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, AB 2537 by Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez, a Democrat from Coachella, and SB 1088, introduced by Democratic Senator Curren Price of Los Angeles.
Ammiano’s bill gives principals and superintendents more discretion to use alternatives to suspension or expulsion, as long as they’re age appropriate and are targeted to change the student’s behavior. Options could include positive behavior interventions, participation in a program like restorative justice, or a conference with the student’s parents, teachers, and school administrators. Schools have to document the efforts.
AB 2537 makes some minor changes to zero tolerance laws by giving school administrators more flexibility to decide whether to use alternative punishments in lieu of expulsion in specific situations. Currently, principals must expel students for certain offenses, including possession of a firearm and possession of a controlled substance, such as marijuana. This bill gives principals the authority to try other interventions when a student is caught with a toy gun or over-the-counter medication.
The bill also eliminates the fine, which can run up to $500, against principals who intentionally fail to file a report with local police regarding an act committed by a student who is subject to suspension or expulsion.
Senator Price’s bill prohibits schools from refusing to enroll or readmit students just because they were in the juvenile justice system.
The governor vetoed AB 2242, by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, a Sacramento Democrat. Dickinson’s bill attempted to address a concern held by civil rights groups that students of color were more likely to be expelled or suspended than white students for behavior described as “willful defiance,” which can mean anything from being disruptive in class to mouthing off to a teacher. More than 40 percent of suspensions fall under this category in California.
In his veto message, Gov. Brown invoked the principle of subsidiarity, a Catholic tenet that essentially calls for local government over big government or, in this case, local school boards instead of the state Legislature. He said this is even more important today, given how budget cuts have affected schools.
“I cannot support limiting the authority of local school leaders, especially at a time when budget cuts have greatly increased class sizes and reduced the number of school personnel,” wrote the governor. “It is important that teachers and school officials retain broad discretion to manage and set the tone in the classroom.”
Two other student discipline bills are still on Gov. Brown’s desk. AB 1235, introduced by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento and Senator Michael Rubio, a Bakersfield Democrat, urges school districts that suspended 25 percent of their total student enrollment or of a subgroup to implement strategies aimed at changing student behavior.
A second bill by Assemblyman Ammiano is also on the governor’s desk. Under AB 1909, if a student in foster care is facing suspension or expulsion, the school district would have to contact the student’s attorney and the county child welfare agency and invite them to a meeting where the student’s case would be discussed.