Los Angeles Unified is the first district in the state to stop suspending students for “willful defiance” – a subjective category that accounts for 54 percent of suspensions and a quarter of all expulsions across the state.
The school board voted 5-2 to ban suspensions for defiance following an impassioned discussion, according to the Los Angeles Times, with one board member saying he considered this change an experiment. The vote is a victory for civil rights groups and other activists who have been working to change the “zero tolerance” approach to discipline in favor of alternatives such as referring students to counseling or contacting parents to determine the root cause of the misbehavior.
Supporters of the change point out that disproportionate numbers of African American students are suspended for willful defiance. African Americans make up 6.5 percent of the state’s students, but they account for 19 percent of the suspensions for willful defiance. Research shows that students who are suspended are much more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system or drop out of school.
Assemblymember Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, has been trying to eliminate willful defiance as a reason for expulsion or out-of-school suspensions across the state. His bill made it through the Legislature during the last legislative session, but was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Dickinson is trying again, with Assembly Bill 420, which received the unanimous support of the Assembly Education Committee in April.