Assemblymember Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento) is reintroducing his bill to limit the use of willfully defying authorities or disrupting school activities as a reason to suspend or expel students.
Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a different version of the bill, saying disciplinary practices should be left up to local school districts. The Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) and the California School Boards Association (CSBA) did not originally support the bill, though they later withdrew their opposition to the amended version that passed the Legislature.
Like its predecessor, the new bill attempts to restrain the use of willful defiance, a vaguely defined category under state law, which each year accounts for about 40 percent of the state’s suspensions – with disproportionate numbers of African American and Latino students suspended.
Assembly Bill 420 is similar to its earlier version, but it distinguishes between K-8 and high school students. The main points, according to Les Spahn, Dickinson’s legislative director, include:
- Students could never be expelled for willful defiance, regardless of their grade level.
- Suspending K-8 students for willful defiance or disruption of school activities would no longer be permitted.
- For high school students, the first two times a student is willfully defiant, administrators would have to provide alternative, less punitive means of correction, such as restorative justice or positive discipline techniques.. (Students could also receive an in-school suspension during which they would do school work under the supervision of a teacher in a room separate from the classroom.) If the student were willfully defiant a third time, then he or she could be given an out-of-school suspension.
Dickinson and his staff have been trying to reach a compromise with the associations representing school board members and administrators. “We’re not yet singing Kumbaya,” Spahn reported.
Laura Preston, a lobbyist for the administrators’ group, said discussions are continuing. One area of contention is whether middle school and older elementary school students should be subject to suspension for willful defiance.
Sarah Omojola, an attorney with Public Counsel Law Center, a pro bono law firm based in Los Angeles, supports eliminating the category for K-8 students. “We are concerned that students who are having some issues are caught early and are identified for other services such as counseling,” she said. “Suspending them can exacerbate the problems.”
As for high school students, Dickinson is trying to avoid the possible negative consequences of suspension and expulsion, Spahn said, such as getting behind in their school work, feeling alienated from school, getting into trouble when they are left unsupervised in the community, and potentially dropping out.
Omojola said her organization is working with the associations representing school boards and administrators, the California Department of Education and The California Endowment, to develop regional trainings on these alternatives for schools and school districts that suspend and expel large numbers of their students. Last year a bill sponsored by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) that would have set up such trainings was vetoed by Brown. “We’re seeking non-legislative ways of doing the same thing,” Omojola said.
More training for teachers and administrators in alternative disciplinary measures is something that the associations have supported for a long time. “I am excited about upcoming professional development opportunities being developed,” Preston said. “A lot is happening behind the scenes.”
Meanwhile, Public Counsel recently created a toolkit for administrators and teachers who want to implement positive discipline techniques.
Note: The California Endowment is one of the funders of EdSource.