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Courtesy of Ginny Daws

Marina Middle School assistant principal Ginny Daws, second from left, runs with her students in San Francisco. Finding ways to connect to students, such as running with them, is the best way to solve any behavioral problems, Daws says. Students, from left, are Ivan Ortega, Sofia Sanchez, Daniela Garcia, Jessica Perez and Kaila Fernandez.

Fewer than 11,000 of California’s 6.2 million students will likely be affected each year by a new law that limits the use of “willful defiance” as a reason to expel or suspend students. But Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature on the bill signifies a growing commitment on the part of the state to find more positive approaches to disciplining students.

Assembly Bill 420 – signed by Brown on Saturday – eliminates willful defiance or disruption of school activities as a reason to expel students. It also prevents administrators from using that reason to issue suspensions to K-3 students. The willful defiance category has come under fire because it has been disproportionately used statewide to discipline African-American students and, in some districts, Latino students. In 2012-13, African-Americans made up about 6 percent of total enrollment, but 19 percent of suspensions for defiance.

“California is now the first state in the nation to take badly needed measures to curtail suspensions and expulsions for minor misbehavior in our schools,” said Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, who introduced the bill.

“Kids who have been suspended or expelled are two times more likely to drop out and five times more likely to turn to crime,” Dickinson said in a statement. “Rather than kicking students out of school, we need to keep young people in school on track to graduate, and out of the criminal justice system.”

For the past three years, legislators and advocates have focused on willful defiance, which accounted for almost half of suspensions. During that time, a few districts, such as Los Angeles Unified and San Francisco Unified, have eliminated the category for expulsions and suspensions, and other districts have relied less heavily on it. The most recent data from 2012-13 show that only 495 students statewide were expelled for willful defiance, accounting for 6 percent of all expulsions. But about 43 percent of all suspensions cited willful defiance, which has been interpreted broadly by some schools to include anything from not turning in homework to disrespecting a teacher and disrupting the class.

“California is now the first state in the nation to take badly needed measures to curtail suspensions and expulsions for minor misbehavior in our schools,” said Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento.

Altogether, 10,190 K-3 students were “suspended from school” in 2012-13 as the result of a willful defiance incident, according to the California Department of Education. That year, districts issued 15,528 suspensions to K-3 students where willful defiance was the most serious offense – a larger number than the statewide student count because some students received more than one suspension. Under the new law, teachers can still send a misbehaving student to the principal’s office, but the principal cannot send the student home.

Brown had vetoed earlier bills – which were opposed by administrator and school board organizations – that would have limited suspensions for older students, saying that it was up to local districts to decide how to discipline students. The Association of California School Administrators and the California School Boards Association supported this bill.

“We believe that prohibiting the suspension of students in K-3 for willful defiance is consistent with the intent of the Education Code,” said Laura Preston, a spokeswoman for the administrators association. She pointed to other parts of the code that only allow suspensions and expulsions for “hate violence” or for “harassment” beginning in grade 4.

In addition, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing is now requiring training in positive discipline for new school principals and administrators.

Not all administrators are happy with the new law limiting the use of willful defiance, however.

“I don’t like anything that would inhibit my ability to do my job,” said Paul Meyers, superintendent of Standard Elementary School District in Bakersfield. “You save a group of kids who are over-suspended in certain areas, but now those rules affect all schools in the state.”

Meyers said he used to be a superintendent of a small rural district that might have a superintendent/principal, a secretary and six teachers, making it difficult to rely on other measures, such as having an administrator intervene, if a child is disrupting a class.

“If a kid comes to kindergarten and is making threats, cussing and flipping off the teacher, what can the teacher do? Restrain him and then put him back in class?” he asked. “They’re taking away a tool and not replacing it with anything.”

“I don’t like anything that would inhibit my ability to do my job,” said Paul Meyers, superintendent of Standard Elementary School District in Bakersfield. “You save a group of kids who are over-suspended in certain areas, but now those rules affect all schools in the state.”

Meyers said he agrees that willful defiance is a “catch-all” and that he can “understand the expulsion piece.”

“I can understand that it’s a management issue where superintendents need to look at their systems and how to better support kids who are acting up in class,” he said. “Any large district is not going to have a problem with this.”

Teachers and principals in San Francisco Unified are already adjusting to the new law because their district eliminated willful defiance as a reason to suspend or expel any student in grades K-12, beginning this school year.

“It works when the kids understand what they have done and how they have to change,” said Ginny Daws, assistant principal of Marina Middle School in San Francisco. “Punishment doesn’t really work.”

Matthew Hardy, communications director with United Educators of San Francisco, said so far things seem to be going well. But, he said, “teachers need training and support from administrators to make it work.”

Ginny Daws, assistant principal at Marina Middle School in San Francisco, uses positive disciplinary approaches in her school. She visits classrooms, sometimes randomly or if a teacher requests her help with discipline. If students are fooling around and not paying attention to the teacher, Daws said, she might stop the class and ask the students to sit in a circle. She will then talk with them about what she observed, explaining what the teacher is trying to do and pointing out how their behavior is making it difficult.

Trejor Barber, left, principal Ginny Daws, and Tyler Tukes run together.

Courtesy of Ginny Daws

Trejor Barber, left, assistant principal Ginny Daws and Tyler Tukes run together.

“I do Atticus Finch,” said Daws, who taught English for 30 years before becoming an administrator. “I get the students to put themselves in the teacher’s shoes.”

“It works when the kids understand what they have done and how they have to change,” she said. “Punishment doesn’t really work.”

If the problem is a couple of students who are fidgeting and not paying attention, Daws will take them to her office. When they talk to her, she will “squirrel around” like they were doing. “How hard is it for you to talk to me?” she’ll ask them.

Daws makes it a point to know the names of each of the 800 students at her school, which is near the Golden Gate Bridge. She also invites students to run with her after school along the marina toward the beaches and the bridge.

“Sometimes we’ll run four or five miles,” she said. “Other times we’ll run two miles and walk and talk and sometimes sit down for a few minutes.” They discuss little things like nail polish and Converse shoes and more important subjects, such as their families.

“You make that connection with kids,” Daws said, and instead of misbehaving when facing difficulties “they understand that they can come and talk with you.”

 


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  1. Steve McGill 4 months ago4 months ago

    Many should not have children. If you have children and do not raise them to respect authority...If you have children and spend most of your days away from them...If you have children and frequently live a life as a horrible example to them...If you have children and don't talk positively about teaches and others in positions of authority and heavy responsibility...then what can we expect? We can expect that the production of such offspring will … Read More

    Many should not have children. If you have children and do not raise them to respect authority…If you have children and spend most of your days away from them…If you have children and frequently live a life as a horrible example to them…If you have children and don’t talk positively about teaches and others in positions of authority and heavy responsibility…then what can we expect? We can expect that the production of such offspring will result in the sacrifice of a good education by those students who HAVE been raised by GOOD parents. It’s the old and tired story: the few ruin it for the many.

    And it always amazes me that there is such a vast array of people who truly believe that somehow NOT dealing seriously with something as serious as defiance is going to work…going to make things better. Do you REALLY think that sitting down with defiant students and talking over them while they try to talk is going to get them to become somehow empathetic? Come on! Can we just get the truth out on the table, here! The moment they walk out the door of your touchy-feely environment, that’s the same moment that they mumble, ‘That was stupid.’

    Something needs to change, to be sure, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the majority of the students in our classrooms, and it also shouldn’t cost our teachers their energy and sleep. If you think these kinds of problems don’t keep teachers up at night, you’re either a baby-sitter teacher or have never taught at all.

    So I close by saying that the kind of demented policies and practices that you find in this article are not only a waste of time, but they are also a very bad thing for a classroom, a school, a district, and in the worst case, a state.

  2. Valerie 7 months ago7 months ago

    I am a huge proponent of positive classroom management, which starts with respecting students, connecting with them, listening to them, and preparing the best learning environment and lessons I can for them to help them be successful in life, but you have to have a balance. A child needs boundaries and those boundaries need to be real. It is a holistic system that is successful. I have taught for over 20 years in public schools … Read More

    I am a huge proponent of positive classroom management, which starts with respecting students, connecting with them, listening to them, and preparing the best learning environment and lessons I can for them to help them be successful in life, but you have to have a balance. A child needs boundaries and those boundaries need to be real. It is a holistic system that is successful. I have taught for over 20 years in public schools in California, and I know what works. I am well-liked by my students and many come back to visit year after year, and they would be the first to tell you I was strict. They knew I cared about them because I stood behind my rules and I expected respect. When I had an administrator who supported me, and parents who cared, I had firm consequences in September, which meant a lot more fun and learning the rest of the year–for everyone. The other students count, too. The state of California is trying to look better cosmetically by reducing the number of suspensions and expulsions, but that doesn’t mean they are doing a better job for students. What would really do a better job for students is to train them how to respect others, including teachers.

  3. davedale 1 year ago1 year ago

    Notice every time there is a change in the law it is either a step to be softer on kids, or more harsh on adults, especially the adult males. There is less an less consequence for any bad behavior by kids. The culture has changed, and what was considered normal discipline by our grandparents is labeled child abuse today. It used to be that the parents were … Read More

    Notice every time there is a change in the law it is either a step to be softer on kids, or more harsh on adults, especially the adult males. There is less an less consequence for any bad behavior by kids. The culture has changed, and what was considered normal discipline by our grandparents is labeled child abuse today. It used to be that the parents were in charge, now the kids know they are boss, and they can detect this from a very early age.

    In the legal system there is now a tendency to be soft on any crimes committed by so called “children”, and many would like to extend childhood beyond 18. It’s hard to blame them, as the entitlements are so profound. In prior generations kids wanted to grow up, today kids have a sort of peter pan syndrome frequently waning to stay a child.

    Today, Some kids don’t even want to get a drivers lic as they are chauffeured around by fearful, sycophantic doting parents who are willing to lash out and sue anyone who dares to look at their little darlings cross eyed. This no suspension law is rooted in parents who have disruptive kids but don’t want them dumped back on them at home when they are suspended, they want the school to deal with the problem.

    Many Kids show up to kindergarten disrespectful to adults. They have never been hit or yelled at , so they know they can do whatever they want. This causes some kids to turn into impossible little monsters, so in class they disrupt the environment for the well behaved kids. In addition, the parents have disempowered the teachers as they will sue if their kid is disciplined.

    In the past, we had some fear of teachers who would yell at us if we acted up. Since teachers can no longer yell at or discipline , suspension is the only tool they have. Now that has been taken away.

    This law will make a bad situation worse. The rich kids now are all segregated in their private schools, at least if their parents can’t afford a house in Manhattan Beach. Now teachers are going to have to keep really bad kids in class,, kids who cuss them out , hit them and other kids, and generally make everybody miserable.

    We are facing a long term crisis in this country. The number of kids training to do work that needs to be done, like learning the skilled trades, is shrinking drastically. Meanwhile, there is an epidemic of boys living and home with their parents and not working or going to school well into their thirties. The cost of housing is soaring, and new houses are plastic, snap together pre fab crap because we don’t have any skilled tradesmen anymore. Education has been feminized, and shop classes and trade school have disappeared almost completely.

    In the future in an area like coastal California , your kids will either have to live with you forever, or commute hours from an ugly, desert community from a cheesy house with Chinese drywall and splitting , yellowing vinyl windows to a low paid job utilizing their business or liberal arts or communications degree .

    It takes discipline to study engineering or something useful , and with most parents and educators unwilling or afraid to instill it , the shortage we have in skilled workers and what they produce is going to progress. No wonder they are talking about allowing 260 sq. ft studios to be built, hope you and your kids enjoy living in one.

  4. Mary Holt 1 year ago1 year ago

    My son is very smart he received a 4. In his freshman year of high school. He had applied to an early college high school program at our local community college. And he was accepted. His sophmore year he struggled with the college level algebra. He did not receive any guidance or tutoring. Upon failing it again over summer when he took an online course. His so called guidance councelor met with him at … Read More

    My son is very smart he received a 4. In his freshman year of high school. He had applied to an early college high school program at our local community college. And he was accepted. His sophmore year he struggled with the college level algebra. He did not receive any guidance or tutoring. Upon failing it again over summer when he took an online course. His so called guidance councelor met with him at his request where upon she proceeded to tell him he was no longer enrolled at the college highschool program. Is this legal?
    My son is the nicest , smartest child I could have ever hoped for he doesn’t deserve this.

  5. paul 1 year ago1 year ago

    Are you saying punishment doesn’t work now it sure worked when I was a kid.

  6. cheryl 1 year ago1 year ago

    It's bad enough in schools already. The kids today are so disrespectful. They call you an f....n b...... and you are supposed to put up with it. You are trying to teach a class and they are up throwing chairs and calling the other kids names and disrupting the class. How are the kids who want to learn supposed to learn? Let some of these people who are making these laws come in and … Read More

    It’s bad enough in schools already. The kids today are so disrespectful. They call you an f….n b…… and you are supposed to put up with it. You are trying to teach a class and they are up throwing chairs and calling the other kids names and disrupting the class. How are the kids who want to learn supposed to learn? Let some of these people who are making these laws come in and take the teachers jobs for one week. I dare them. They couldn’t handle it. I’ve learned over the years, that if the kids see one kid getting away with bad behavior, then they figure they can do it top, and why not there are no consequences.

  7. RENEE 1 year ago1 year ago

    Susan I read your article regarding AB420 with such interest. You see I've still got 1/4 of the most difficult year I've ever experienced in 22 years to get through. I need answers. I have a student who displays such extreme behaviors that he has been suspended 5 times already this year. He was suspended twice by October before he was placed in my class. At that time he was in first … Read More

    Susan I read your article regarding AB420 with such interest. You see I’ve still got 1/4 of the most difficult year I’ve ever experienced in 22 years to get through. I need answers. I have a student who displays such extreme behaviors that he has been suspended 5 times already this year. He was suspended twice by October before he was placed in my class. At that time he was in first grade and he had a full time aide. Since then he was put back in kindergarten in my class and had been suspended 3 more times. The full time aide has been taken away and he gets 2 hours of support out of six hours in class daily. The rest of the time I deal with him. He is aggressive to me, other adults and to other children. I am currently on Workman comp because when he charged me it hurt my back. When I got hurt his family finally put him on meds that help his hyperactivity. He is in his own little world and I can’t reach him. He had not learned the alphabet, numbers or any grade level standards despite this being his second year in kinder. He also regularly spews obscenities and hate language. This class has suffered so. Positive discipline is not working. He has no interest in learning or engaging with his class or teacher. Do you have any suggestions, resources?

    Replies

    • Susan Frey 1 year ago1 year ago

      Hi Renee,

      Sorry to hear about the problem with the young boy. My first thought is whether he and his family are in counseling. As I mentioned in an email to you, I have contacted Public Counsel and the organization is willing to help this child and his family get the resources they need. I hope this helps.

  8. Ron 2 years ago2 years ago

    As a teacher and former administrator at both the middle school and high school level, this law is typical of what is wrong with public education, in general, and California specifically. What many seem to forget or just don't think of is that in most classes you may have 1-6 students who consistently disrupt, this disruption by the few greatly effects the education of the many. Every time a teacher has to stop a … Read More

    As a teacher and former administrator at both the middle school and high school level, this law is typical of what is wrong with public education, in general, and California specifically. What many seem to forget or just don’t think of is that in most classes you may have 1-6 students who consistently disrupt, this disruption by the few greatly effects the education of the many. Every time a teacher has to stop a lesson or correct/redirect a student that takes away time/attention from the students who understand the importance of education and are attempting to maximize their educational opportunities. Yes, its unfair…to the majority of students who come to class ready and willing to learn.

    Replies

    • TheMorrigan 2 years ago2 years ago

      Good point, Ron. Those few, the ones who take up our time, are the very ones who have 80% of the office visits and take up the majority of the suspensions. Yet when reports talk about suspensions it is made to seem as if each suspension is a separate student entirely.

      • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

        And yet all the attention and a tremendous amount of resources are directed towards these few students. How often do we read about the successes of the hardworking students? You can scroll down and not find a single article. Many Ed Source readers complain about the steady barrage of bad news as if teachers are the only ones who take the brunt of these criticisms. The majority of students who work tirelessly day in … Read More

        And yet all the attention and a tremendous amount of resources are directed towards these few students. How often do we read about the successes of the hardworking students? You can scroll down and not find a single article. Many Ed Source readers complain about the steady barrage of bad news as if teachers are the only ones who take the brunt of these criticisms. The majority of students who work tirelessly day in and day out never get the recognition and resources they have earned and deserve. Like Ron and TheMorrigan said it is always the same group of usual suspects who take up the lion’s share of the time devoted to disciplinary issues. But when if ever has anyone asked the question – just how much in terms of resources should we devote to these few and while still imagining equity is our goal?

  9. Corinne V. Marin 2 years ago2 years ago

    I totally disagree with this new mandate. So glad I'm now retired... It has nothing to fo with racial profiling, rather failure of many parents to teach their children to respect and cooperate with authority figures -- and each other. However, how can teachers effectively consistently engage their students, whose performance has become a measure of their own competence, when they must compete with opposition-defiant students who can not be removed. … Read More

    I totally disagree with this new mandate. So glad I’m now retired… It has nothing to fo with racial profiling, rather failure of many parents to teach their children to respect and cooperate with authority figures — and each other. However, how can teachers effectively consistently engage their students, whose performance has become a measure of their own competence, when they must compete with opposition-defiant students who can not be removed. In my 30 years of teaching, there was consistent resistence to even sending a student to the office for a double reprimand… The most common response– “Handle this in class…” Meanwhile, at my last school, administrators with clipboards rotated through classrooms 2-4x per week, quantifying if one’s class was “minimum 85% actively engaged in current lesson.” Everyone in the grade level was supposed to be progressing from lesson to lesson and chapter to chapter in sync, neck-to-neck, testing same days. Enduring the antics, disruptions, and rude/crude/lewd interactions of defiant students while attempting to stay fixed on teaching per “task analysis,” sequentially, interactively, sometimes seemed futile and oppressive. Governor Brown is ignorant of the rigors of trying to teach without removing the worst of the worst, regularly and predictably so students learn serious consequences result. This is utterly unfair to teachers. He needs to try it himself, on video, not as a guest teacher, but a regular one for at least a month, every day. Don’t vote for him again, Teachers!

    Replies

    • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

      Thank you, Corinne, for providing a little dose of reality to those who think student suspension from the classroom is a political issue. Willful defiance is just a term. When students are continuously disruptive they need to be removed, period. Here we have Governor Brown, the governor who brought us local control, telling administrators and teachers who can be suspended and who can't. This is just another concession to the progressive bean counters … Read More

      Thank you, Corinne, for providing a little dose of reality to those who think student suspension from the classroom is a political issue. Willful defiance is just a term. When students are continuously disruptive they need to be removed, period. Here we have Governor Brown, the governor who brought us local control, telling administrators and teachers who can be suspended and who can’t. This is just another concession to the progressive bean counters who use proportionality as a truncheon for so-called social justice change.There’s nothing socially just about enabling classroom chaos.

      If you had to sit down and do round table discussions every time recalcitrant students acted the fool, there would be precious little time left to teach anything. I oppose any efforts to take away from teachers the necessary tools they need to control the class for the benefit of all those who want to take advantage of the opportunity of education, even at the K-3 level.

  10. George Buzzetti 2 years ago2 years ago

    This is good and have been in the fight at LAUSD for a long time on this one. In fact, CORE-CA, began the process, under Celes King IV, to get Jeremy out of jail for 18 months for "Lynching" for merely videoing an officer putting a students head through a bus window. However, why aren't you talking about the 124,000 who do not come to school everyday at LAUSD. This ratio of 19% up … Read More

    This is good and have been in the fight at LAUSD for a long time on this one. In fact, CORE-CA, began the process, under Celes King IV, to get Jeremy out of jail for 18 months for “Lynching” for merely videoing an officer putting a students head through a bus window.

    However, why aren’t you talking about the 124,000 who do not come to school everyday at LAUSD. This ratio of 19% up from 2 % in 2001-02 has had no response from anyone but myself and Tom Carter. I think some priorities should be gotten straight. I have done 10 year spreadsheets on many school districts. The state knows this. They have them and have asked for them and then nothing. At LAUSD this = 124,000 students on the street to steal like they just did to me for the 28th time since 1990, a lost LAUSD revenue of $1.68 billion and the loss of 15-20,000 jobs and messed up families as no one cares. If those in legal positions and responsibilities for this do nothing it means they do not care and even worse could be paid to not pay attention. There is no other way this happens. This is 5,500 teachers jobs at LAUSD, this means a loss of revenue for UTLA of $3.94 million/year and they have financial difficulties.

    What if the unions said to LAUSD “Just like when UTLA was founded in 1970 pay is not all, we will have a say so in our students and what happens to them as they are #1, not adults. We will take less pay if you bring back those students and save our society.” They have been presented this over and over and do not care. You can talk all day long, in the long run it is not what you say but what you do. By the way we do real data, ask anyone.

  11. Frances O'Neill Zimmerman 2 years ago2 years ago

    You’ve got to appreciate Principal Ginny Daws who knows all her students by name, intervenes in classrooms where miscreants are disrupting, personally educates them about why cooperating matters, and makes herself available out-of-school-hours for sharing fun activities with her kids. It could turn bad-actors into committed stakeholders, and I’m sure it does. Can Daws be cloned?

  12. Brad Strong 2 years ago2 years ago

    The opposition raised in the article says, “If a kid comes to kindergarten and is making threats, cussing and flipping off the teacher, what can the teacher do?" Unfortunately, I do think the suspension mentality is too pervasive. Data show defiance and disruption to be severely disproportionate for students of color and special education. California's remedy for behavior should not be to kick them out of school, we know that doesn't end … Read More

    The opposition raised in the article says, “If a kid comes to kindergarten and is making threats, cussing and flipping off the teacher, what can the teacher do?” Unfortunately, I do think the suspension mentality is too pervasive. Data show defiance and disruption to be severely disproportionate for students of color and special education. California’s remedy for behavior should not be to kick them out of school, we know that doesn’t end well for our students, yet there are still 20+ other reasons that still exist to suspend and expel even after enactment of AB 420.

    In the specific kindergarten example given in the article above, if the school and teacher are unable to improve behavior and insist on suspensions and expulsions, then the following options still apply:

    48900 (a) (1) Caused, attempted to cause, or threatened to cause physical injury to another person.
    48900 (i) Committed an obscene act or engaged in habitual profanity or vulgarity,

    In addition to the above, there are lots of other statutes that can be used to protect the learning environment without suspending the students and sending them home. I firmly believe that out of school remedies are the wrong approach, but opposition to AB 420 on this basis does not acknowledge existing law.

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