Credit: Alison Yin for EdSource

Hoping for a friendlier response from Gov. Gavin Newsom than she got from Jerry Brown, state Sen. Nancy Skinner is again proposing legislation that would ban out-of-school suspensions in all grades for student behavior deemed “defiant and disruptive” by school authorities.

If Skinner’s bill, SB 419, passes the Legislature, it will mark the third time this decade that a ban on these suspensions — which data show are disproportionately meted out to students of color, LGBT students and those with disabilities — has reached the governor’s desk.

In 2012, Gov. Brown vetoed a bill calling for a K-12 ban. In 2014, he signed a bill that shrunk the ban to only include grades K-3. But he brandished his veto pen again last year after the Legislature passed a K-8 ban proposed by Skinner, a Democrat who represents Berkeley, Oakland and other East Bay cities.

Brown’s primary reason for rejecting both bills was his belief in local control. “Teachers and principals are on the front lines of educating our children and are in the best position to make decisions about order and discipline in the classrooms,” Brown said in the veto message he issued last October.

Meanwhile, Skinner and youth advocates have long argued that local control shouldn’t trump students’ civil rights when a large body of research shows that students in marginalized groups receive these suspensions at the highest rates across all grade levels.

“When you look at the data on who is suspended, you can’t help but see the stark reality,” Skinner said. “Boys of color, kids in special education, LGBTQ kids — kids who don’t fit all of our cultural norms — are targeted due to the implicit bias that we know is present in every institution we have.”

A spokesman for Newsom declined to comment on Skinner’s bill. However, Skinner and the advocates supporting the bill expect the new governor to be more receptive than his predecessor.

“He has a track record of being committed to both juvenile justice reform and education,” said Emilio Lacques-Zapien, a youth organizer with the Los Angeles-based Youth Justice Coalition. “This bill ties those two issues together and we are feeling more confident in his leadership.”

Tony Thurmond, the newly elected superintendent of public instruction, did not respond to requests for comment. However, he voted for the K-8 ban last year while serving as a state Assemblyman representing parts of Oakland and other East Bay communities.

Even though the current ban only covers early elementary grades, schools statewide have in recent years drastically reduced the number of defiance and disruption suspensions they’ve issued in all grades. California schools issued about 335,000 such suspensions to K-12 students during the 2011-12 school year, far more than any other category of suspension, state data show. In 2017-18, the number had dropped to below 60,000.

Also helping to drive down the numbers is the fact that suspension rates are among the statewide indicators on the California School Dashboard, the state’s online report card for schools. A school with multiple years of high suspension rates that aren’t improving is at risk of being designated as low-performing if it also scores poorly on other measures, such as test scores and graduation rates.

Even though many schools are reporting dramatic drops in overall suspensions, African-American students are still suspended three times as often as their white peers, according to the state data. It is this reality that has led two powerful groups — the California Association of School Administrators and the California School Boards Association — to switch from opposing suspension bans to supporting them.

Last year, the school administrators’ association was on board with a K-12 ban but the school boards’ association would only go so far as a K-8 ban, which factored into Skinner’s decision to not include high school grades in the final version of the bill she authored last year.

The bill Skinner proposed last week calls for a K-12 ban, but includes a five-year sunset for the ban in grades 9-12. The idea behind the sunset clause is to give both local and state officials the opportunity to evaluate how alternatives to suspensions are working in high schools before going ahead with a permanent ban, Skinner said.

“The point of the evaluation is to make sure that the removal of this tool (suspensions) is not impacting classrooms or teachers in a negative way,” Skinner said.

While the bill does not include funding for an evaluation process, it does make a specific reference to $15 million approved by the Legislature and Brown last year to fund a pilot program aimed at providing more resources for alternatives to suspensions and other traditional punishments.

The grant program, which will be overseen by the county offices of education in Orange and Butte counties and run by UCLA’s Center for the Transformation of Schools, will emphasize restorative justice, social-emotional learning and other alternatives that emphasize mediation and building healthy relationships.

“We are hoping that when the 9-12 ban is in effect, we will be able to prove what we already know to be true, which is that these suspensions unnecessarily push youth out of school,” said Lacques-Zapien of the Youth Justice Coalition.

Erika Hoffman, a legislative advocate for the school boards association, said it’s good to know that the bill includes an evaluation process, but couldn’t commit to a K-12 ban. “I’ll take this to my legislative committee and we’ll have a full-blown discussion on it,” she said.

Another powerful voice in the discussion is the California Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union. Last year, the union switched from opposing the bill to a neutral position after Skinner limited it to grades K-8.

Union spokespeople did not respond in recent days to calls and emails seeking comment on the new bill. In a previous interview, Eric Heins, the union’s president, said the push to reduce suspensions without corresponding investments in alternatives to traditional discipline has led to instances in which lower suspension rates do not necessarily mean less chaotic classrooms.

“If a student is sent back to the classroom without any restorative practices, then you are just continuing a problem situation,” Heins said in an interview with EdSource in December. “We call this gaming the numbers. (Administrators say) ‘Look, we’ve reduced suspensions,’ but you really haven’t helped the student succeed.”

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  1. tim bensen 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Get serious. Its chicken or the egg. It is not racial discrimination, it is those kids that are unruly and doing far worse in our schools. When will these laws recognize that good kids of any color do not want to tolerate the bad apples and that a bad apple is a bad apple n matter the demographic. This is an attempt to have a legislator from one small distressed and dysfunctional district write a … Read More

    Get serious. Its chicken or the egg. It is not racial discrimination, it is those kids that are unruly and doing far worse in our schools. When will these laws recognize that good kids of any color do not want to tolerate the bad apples and that a bad apple is a bad apple n matter the demographic.

    This is an attempt to have a legislator from one small distressed and dysfunctional district write a law that affect the safety, welfare and educational opportunity, free of the unruly and bad kids. Next we will hear that tired mantra that the prison system and justice is biased because a disproportionate demographic is represented.

  2. Katie 5 months ago5 months ago

    I’m a parent of a child with no discipline issues, but she is in a class with quite a few students who are constantly misbehaving. I volunteer once a week in her class for 1-2 hours. I have since kindergarten. She is now a 4th grader. That classroom is almost always in a state of chaos. There are multiple students sent to the office. Sometimes multiple times and for things I feel are … Read More

    I’m a parent of a child with no discipline issues, but she is in a class with quite a few students who are constantly misbehaving. I volunteer once a week in her class for 1-2 hours. I have since kindergarten. She is now a 4th grader. That classroom is almost always in a state of chaos. There are multiple students sent to the office. Sometimes multiple times and for things I feel are worthy of suspending.

    One instance I was in the classroom when a student spit in the teacher’s face, and was not suspended! I believe this falls under your “willful defiance.” My child has been bullied both verbally and physically, none of which has resulted in a suspension. The teacher is on it and so are the administrators, but these laws tie their hands. We have had meetings about plans to keep our daughter safe, but why shouldn’t a student acting like that be removed from school for a period of time? So it seems this bill is more aimed at protecting children who misbehave and not holding their parents accountable. How does this bill protect those students who behave and keep them safe?

  3. George Politico 5 months ago5 months ago

    I understand the desire not to push students out of school, but the intimidation of good students by disruptive students is said to be a major problem in the New York City public school system. Here is an article by retired NYC public school teacher Mary Hudson: https://quillette.com/2019/02/10/public-educations-dirty-secret/

  4. Stan Rothwell 5 months ago5 months ago

    Once again, an example of the liberal left lunacy that has taken grip in California. As another poster here has noted, it's the fact that the educrats are willing to surrender control of the public school classroom to complete chaos that has more and more parents questioning the wisdom of keeping their children in those same public schools. Teachers complain about the lack of order and respect they get in the classroom, but Political Correctness … Read More

    Once again, an example of the liberal left lunacy that has taken grip in California. As another poster here has noted, it’s the fact that the educrats are willing to surrender control of the public school classroom to complete chaos that has more and more parents questioning the wisdom of keeping their children in those same public schools. Teachers complain about the lack of order and respect they get in the classroom, but Political Correctness and the teachers unions drive them to support this type of stuff anyway. This type of nonsense makes it quite clear that those running and teaching in our public schools are no longer “the best and brightest”…

  5. Wayne Bishop 7 months ago7 months ago

    One has to be creative to come up with a policy more conducive to driving kids from public schools to private ones – you know, real schools – than this policy. We did it with our children because of the inexcusably poor education to which they were being exposed but it took us several years to make that critical decision. Being in a classroom with outrageously disruptive students would have made the decision instantaneous.

  6. Gregory Lin Lipford 7 months ago7 months ago

    I keep hoping EdSource will improve on its journalism and present more honest reporting, but, alas, not yet.

    Within the very link provided as proof of racism-based suspensions is this:

    “A recent report from Max Eden of the Manhattan Institute analyzed survey data from New York City and concluded that discipline reform may be contributing to a deterioration in school climate.”

    Yet, that deterioration was not deemed relevant to this story.

    Replies

    • Marjie Starkey 6 months ago6 months ago

      Hi Gregory, I appreciate your comment, but am curious about the deterioration part. Can you please elaborate further what you’re meaning?