Credit: Alison Yin for EdSource Today
Updated on Sept. 9, 2019 at 4 p.m.

For state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, the issue is clear-cut: no student should be pushed out of school for relatively minor misbehavior. If students aren’t in school, she says, they can’t learn — and are more likely to end up in deeper trouble, or even ending up in the “school to prison pipeline.”

That’s why she is once again trying, now that she has the Legislature’s approval, to convince another governor to sign a bill she authored, SB 419, to expand a ban on suspending students for disruption of school activities or “willfully defying” school authorities. Under current law, the state already bans suspensions for willful defiance in kindergarten through 3rd grade. Skinner’s bill would widen the ban to grades 4 to 6, with a trial five-year ban in grades 6 to 8 as well.  Students could still be removed from the classroom for willful defiance for up to two days as long as they didn’t have to leave the school, and participated in what is called an “in-school suspension.”

“Willful defiance” is one of the most vaguely defined categories of suspension and, Skinner and others argue, is often misused. African-American students in particular have been disproportionately targeted for suspensions for willful defiance.  Currently African-American students make up 5.6 percent of the total student enrollment in California, but 15.6 percent of those suspended for willful defiance. That is the case even though willful defiance suspension have declined dramatically over the past half dozen years. 

The law defines willful defiance as “disrupting school activities or otherwise willfully defying the authority of supervisors, teachers, administrators, school officials, or other school personnel engaged in the performance of their duties.”

Over the last several years California has made reducing suspensions a major priority and many school districts have implemented alternative discipline strategies, including restorative justice and a program called Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports. As a result, total suspensions for all categories of behavior have dropped by half over the past six years.

Some school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest, have banned  suspensions for disruption and willful defiance altogether, not only in the middle grades. As a result, willful defiance suspensions have dropped even more precipitously than suspensions for more serious behavior. In 2011-12, willful defiance accounted for about half of the approximately 700,000 suspensions in the state. By the 2017-18 school year, they made up only one-sixth of the 363,000 suspensions during the year.

Skinner’s bill has many supporters, including the California State PTA, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the ACLU, the Association of California School Administrators and the California School Boards Association. Only one organization is officially against it — the Charter Schools Development Center, an organization that provides technical services and other services to help charter schools get started.

Reflecting concerns among many teachers that removing their ability to suspend students this way could make it harder for them to manage difficult children, the California Teachers Association has not taken a position on the bill.

However, even  if Gov. Newsom were to approve SB 419, state law would still allow teachers to send students to the principal’s office for disruption and willful defiance, and be kept out of the class for that day and the following day.  The principal would be required to convene a parent-teacher conference as spam as possible, attended by a school administrator if requested by the parent or the teacher.

In 2013, former Gov. Jerry Brown somewhat reluctantly signed into law a ban on out-of-school  suspensions of K-3 students. A year before, he had vetoed a similar bill that would have eliminated those suspensions in all grades. And just last year, he once again rejected a bill that would have expanded the ban through the 8th grade.

As he did throughout his governorship, he insisted that the principle of local control should apply to suspensions as well. “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 his veto message of Skinner’s bill last year.

Skinner would still like to extend the ban to all grades. One compelling reason is that most suspensions occur when students are in middle and high school, not in elementary school. But she has scaled back her aspirations. The bill that is now on Newsom’s desk awaiting his signature or veto only extends the ban to all elementary grades — and to middle schools for a five-year period.

It is true that school districts can decide whether to eliminate the use of willful defiance suspension, without any prodding from the state. In addition to L.A. Unified, school districts in Oakland, San Francisco, Pasadena and nearby Asuza have done so for all grades.

But Skinner feels strongly that state intervention is necessary. “Sometimes state action is necessary to address gross inequalities,” she wrote in a commentary for EdSource last month. “We must eliminate willful defiance suspensions throughout the state if California is serious about addressing racial disparities in our school discipline system.”

Clarification: This report was updated on Sept. 9 at 4 p.m. to clarify that regardless of the new law teachers will still be able to suspend a student who is disruptive or willfully defiant for the day of the incident and the following day, as long as the student remains in school.

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  1. Mark Sigman 2 months ago2 months ago

    Totally ignorant bill. How will students who are trying to learn be able to get instruction if one student monopolizes the teacher time trying to keep them from interrupting and disturbing students around them? This is a bad idea in every sense of the word.

  2. Laura G 3 months ago3 months ago

    “As a result, total suspensions for all categories of behavior have dropped by half over the past six years.” You’re making the mistake of assuming a drop in suspensions equals an increase in better behavior. It doesn’t. It just means kids are being suspended less. They’re still doing what they were doing-they’re just getting away with it now. Those dramatic results aren’t necessarily because of PBIS, or restorative justice. In many schools it’s become a Monty … Read More

    “As a result, total suspensions for all categories of behavior have dropped by half over the past six years.”

    You’re making the mistake of assuming a drop in suspensions equals an increase in better behavior. It doesn’t.

    It just means kids are being suspended less. They’re still doing what they were doing-they’re just getting away with it now. Those dramatic results aren’t necessarily because of PBIS, or restorative justice. In many schools it’s become a Monty Python skit: “Stop or we’ll say stop again.”

  3. Dr. Bill Conrad 3 months ago3 months ago

    Yet another example of a pseudo-profession unable to recognize and eliminate malpractice in its midst! So pathetic! Just another artifact of a pretend profession populated by the least qualified and the least well trained. Time to transform this huge mess. Good for the CA legislature for exhibiting the common sense to do the right thing on behalf of kids and families! Maybe they can tackle the malpractice of student retentions next cuz … Read More

    Yet another example of a pseudo-profession unable to recognize and eliminate malpractice in its midst! So pathetic! Just another artifact of a pretend profession populated by the least qualified and the least well trained.

    Time to transform this huge mess. Good for the CA legislature for exhibiting the common sense to do the right thing on behalf of kids and families!

    Maybe they can tackle the malpractice of student retentions next cuz the moribund K-12 system will certainly not address it!

    God help the children and families who have to endure the nightmare of K-12 education in CA!

    Replies

    • Jason Sanchez 3 months ago3 months ago

      Dr. Connard, Your insults to California teachers are appalling. Shame on you. Sure there are some poor teachers out there, but in my experience over 95% of teachers are extremely caring and hardworking professionals. Teachers are some of the hardest working professionals out there. They sacrifice their time, their personal life, their weekends, and sometimes their health for the students they love. And they do all this with little support, respect, or pay. You have no idea. Please go … Read More

      Dr. Connard,

      Your insults to California teachers are appalling. Shame on you.

      Sure there are some poor teachers out there, but in my experience over 95% of teachers are extremely caring and hardworking professionals.

      Teachers are some of the hardest working professionals out there. They sacrifice their time, their personal life, their weekends, and sometimes their health for the students they love. And they do all this with little support, respect, or pay.

      You have no idea. Please go teach in a classroom at a struggling school so that you can show how it’s done.

      • Bill Conrad 3 months ago3 months ago

        You reap what you sow! Have you looked at student academic results? Fewer than 1/2 the kids in California can read by the end of third grade! Who takes responsibility for that travesty! And it is much worse for children of color, economically disadvantaged students, and students with disabilities! I am not one to patronize teachers with the false platitudes that they have been accustomed to! And I hold out my greatest disgust … Read More

        You reap what you sow!

        Have you looked at student academic results? Fewer than 1/2 the kids in California can read by the end of third grade! Who takes responsibility for that travesty! And it is much worse for children of color, economically disadvantaged students, and students with disabilities!

        I am not one to patronize teachers with the false platitudes that they have been accustomed to! And I hold out my greatest disgust for the schmoozer loyalty driven incompetent administrators who supervise teachers!

        I taught Middle School and High School science for 7 years so don’t throw that you should teach BS in my face.

        We need to transform the colleges of education so they recruit our finest, train them well and put them on a career ladder of apprentice, resident, journeyman, and Master Teacher. Administrators should be drawn from the Master Teacher ranks for temporary roles as administrators!

        The children and families of CA continue to wait! Who looks out for their interests!

  4. Josephine Brinkman 3 months ago3 months ago

    Dan, I respect your knowledge and your citation. However, what seems to evade many people is that time is of the essence, my time is limited, valuable, and so it is for all the stakeholders, the student included. The way this bill is written begs for more time spent on a bad situation. Students, teachers, parents, admin and the District need to be on the same page. Act up, cuss, throw … Read More

    Dan, I respect your knowledge and your citation. However, what seems to evade many people is that time is of the essence, my time is limited, valuable, and so it is for all the stakeholders, the student included.

    The way this bill is written begs for more time spent on a bad situation. Students, teachers, parents, admin and the District need to be on the same page. Act up, cuss, throw things, scream, whatever, you are out of the classroom. You are not coming back for at least two days. Yes, you lose educational time but that is part of the consequence and part of the failure of the system that has enable the behavior in the first place.

    I know this because I came from elementary and you can ask my colleagues, we had the behaviors in kinder and many students still act the same way as they did in kinder. We enabled and nurtured many of the behaviors in both the students and the parents.

    I am a parent, I know what it is like to advocate, support, and try to do the best for the student but at some point there have to be consequences and there has to be some respect for the educator who knows the student and knows the methodology and pedagogy to attempt to do what is best for the student. We are seeing the repercussions of too much meddling from those who do not know what they are talking about. Who is steering the boat? Who is in the boat day in and day out. We, the educators are.

    I am sorry I have seen a lot, give educators more credence and support, who in turn will do what is best for our students. I do not go into my doctor’s office and tell them what is wrong with their diagnosis, I trust their expertise. That is the issue here. We teachers are not treated, have not been treated with the respect that we as professionals deserve.

  5. Dan Sackheim 3 months ago3 months ago

    As a continuation of my prior comment, above, Education Code Section 48900.5 provides for other means of correction instead of suspension. It reads as follows: 48900.5. (a) Suspension, including supervised suspension as described in Section 48911.1, shall be imposed only when other means of correction fail to bring about proper conduct. A school district may document the other means of correction used and place that documentation in the pupil’s record, which may be accessed pursuant … Read More

    As a continuation of my prior comment, above, Education Code Section 48900.5 provides for other means of correction instead of suspension. It reads as follows:

    48900.5. (a) Suspension, including supervised suspension as described in Section 48911.1, shall be imposed only when other means of correction fail to bring about proper conduct. A school district may document the other means of correction used and place that documentation in the pupil’s record, which may be accessed pursuant to Section 49069. However, a pupil, including an individual with exceptional needs, as defined in Section 56026, may be suspended, subject to Section 1415 of Title 20 of the United States Code, for any of the reasons enumerated in Section 48900 upon a first offense, if the principal or superintendent of schools determines that the pupil violated subdivision (a), (b), (c), (d), or (e) of Section 48900 or that the pupil’s presencecauses a danger to persons.

    (b) Other means of correction include, but are not limited to, the following:

    (1) A conference between school personnel, the pupil’s parent or guardian, and the pupil.

    (2) Referrals to the school counselor, psychologist, social worker, child welfare attendance personnel, or other school support service personnel for case management and counseling.

    (3) Study teams, guidance teams, resource panel teams, or other intervention-related teams that assess the behavior, and develop and implement individualized plans to address the behavior in partnership with the pupil and his or her parents.

    (4) Referral for a comprehensive psychosocial or psychoeducational assessment,including for purposes of creating an individualized education program, or a plan adopted pursuant to Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. Sec. 794(a)).

    (5) Enrollment in a program for teaching prosocial behavior or anger management.

    (6) Participation in a restorative justice program.

    (7) A positive behavior support approach with tiered interventions that occur during the schoolday on campus.

    (8) After-school programs that address specific behavioral issues or expose pupils to positive activities and behaviors, including, but not limited to, those operated in collaboration with local parent and community groups.

    (9) Any of the alternatives described in Section48900.6.

  6. Josephine Brinkman 3 months ago3 months ago

    It is clear that many of the people who write these bills do not teach or have little to no teaching experience. It is a slippery slope. I have been teaching for 20 years at the both elementary and high school level.I have been through numerous professional development seminars that focus on methodology for behavior management in the classroom. I also have a Master's degree in Education, and a Master's of Fine Arts in … Read More

    It is clear that many of the people who write these bills do not teach or have little to no teaching experience.

    It is a slippery slope. I have been teaching for 20 years at the both elementary and high school level.I have been through numerous professional development seminars that focus on methodology for behavior management in the classroom. I also have a Master’s degree in Education, and a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. I am a long-time educator and have a passion for teaching.

    I do not think anyone should try to put a “one size fits all” bill that clearly does not completely address the many variables involved with “willful defiance,” and I pray that Governor Newsom will think carefully on this topic before making a decision.

    The classrooms today are filled with students from all backgrounds with many different needs and all should be addressed thoroughly and responsibly. However, when a classroom of 38-47 students at a high school mixed with Special Needs, students who are on a certificate-only track, and English language learners without aides or co-teachers and then have to deal with students who continually act out for whatever reason, there have to be consequences.

    We would not have to have referrals and suspension if there were a cohesive support system in place in administration and at the district level. It is not that cut and dry. Every student is different, every situation is different. Stop trying to push the buck instead of dealing with the real problems behind every challenging student. Listen to the educators and start dealing with the bigger issues which unless you are in education today, you really don’t even know what i am talking about.

    I am tired of reading about people who think they know what goes on in the classroom because they come by a class for five minutes and take a photo. No, every day, 7.5 hours a day, 185 days a year.

  7. Dan Sackheim 3 months ago3 months ago

    Please note that SB 419 does not repeal the language Section 48900(k) currently stating, "Except as provided in Section 48910..." which provides for a teacher to suspend a pupil from class (in contrast with suspending a pupil from school). This is significantly different from a full ban on suspension for disruption and defiance. The intent in SB 419 is that someone other than the teacher could/should be working with the pupil who has needed to … Read More

    Please note that SB 419 does not repeal the language Section 48900(k) currently stating, “Except as provided in Section 48910…” which provides for a teacher to suspend a pupil from class (in contrast with suspending a pupil from school). This is significantly different from a full ban on suspension for disruption and defiance. The intent in SB 419 is that someone other than the teacher could/should be working with the pupil who has needed to leave the classroom, to support the pupil, consistent with Education Code Section 48900.5, to actively support the student to be able to return to the learning environment and not impede other pupils in doing so.

    Section 48910 reads as follows:

    48910. (a) A teacher may suspend any pupil from class, for any of the acts enumerated in Section 48900, for the day of the suspension and the day following. The teacher shall immediately report the suspension to the principal of the school and send the pupil to the principal or the designee of the principal for appropriate action. If that action requires the continued presence of the pupil at the schoolsite, the pupil shall be under appropriate supervision, as defined in policies and related regulations adopted by the governing board of the school district. As soon as possible, the teacher shall ask the parent or guardian of the pupil to attend a parent-teacher conference regarding the suspension. If practicable, a school counselor or a school psychologist may attend the conference. A school administrator shall attend the conference if the teacher or the parent or guardian so requests. The pupil shall not be returned to the class from which he or she was suspended, during the period of the suspension, without the concurrence of the teacher of the class and the principal.

    (b) A pupil suspended from a class shall not be placed in another regular class during the period of suspension. However, if the pupil is assigned to more than one class per day this subdivision shall apply only to other regular classes scheduled at the same time as the class from which the pupil was suspended.

    (c) A teacher may also refer a pupil, for any of the acts enumerated in Section 48900, to the principal or the designee of the principal for consideration of a suspension from the school.

  8. Stuart D. Schnell 3 months ago3 months ago

    I am opposed to this. Problem is that without consequences there are defiant students who will act out and defiantly tell those in authority, teachers, notwithstanding, that they "can't do sh*t." I had a student who would not let me leave the room at the end of the period, trying to get me to push his arm out of the way and then scream I assaulted him. I had to call for … Read More

    I am opposed to this. Problem is that without consequences there are defiant students who will act out and defiantly tell those in authority, teachers, notwithstanding, that they “can’t do sh*t.” I had a student who would not let me leave the room at the end of the period, trying to get me to push his arm out of the way and then scream I assaulted him. I had to call for the school police to forcibly move him.

    I know their tricks. Their parents appear to have abandoned their responsibility to raise their kids properly and will be the first to complain if action is taken against their precious darlings. Nit was not like that when I started in 1969 but by the time I retired, we had students committing battery on teachers with impunity.

  9. Dominic Zarecki 3 months ago3 months ago

    Unfortunately, research shows that bans and restorative justice sometimes cause the outcomes we are trying to avoid. Only one published paper looks at academic and other impacts of a ban. In 2012 Philadelphia banned suspensions for infractions such as disruption, profanity, and forgery. Then suspension rates increased, disparities between racial groups increased, and academic performance declined: https://fordhaminstitute.org/national/research/academic-and-behavioral-consequences-discipline-policy-reform My working paper similarly finds a substantial negative impact on Math in four California districts that already adopted bans for … Read More

    Unfortunately, research shows that bans and restorative justice sometimes cause the outcomes we are trying to avoid.

    Only one published paper looks at academic and other impacts of a ban. In 2012 Philadelphia banned suspensions for infractions such as disruption, profanity, and forgery. Then suspension rates increased, disparities between racial groups increased, and academic performance declined: https://fordhaminstitute.org/national/research/academic-and-behavioral-consequences-discipline-policy-reform

    My working paper similarly finds a substantial negative impact on Math in four California districts that already adopted bans for K-12 – Los Angeles, San Francisco, Pasadena, and Oakland: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3251581

    Finally, RAND did a randomized controlled trial of restorative justice in Pittsburgh. The results were very different by gradespan:
    – In elementary grades, restorative justice caused a decrease in suspension rates, a possible decrease in arrest rates, and no change in academics (pages 52, 54, and 56).
    – In grades 7 and 8, restorative justice caused no change in suspension rates, a possible increase in arrest rates, and a decrease in both Math and English performance (pages 52, 54, and 56). The results were worst for Math and for African American students: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2840.html

  10. Dominique Ballante 3 months ago3 months ago

    This concerns me as the students demonstrating willful defiance are impeding education for all the others who are in school to learn. The educator is dismissed, the students are hostages to the moods, violence, and control of a minority that is empowered by those who should removed them from the classrooms they disturb. Can’t politicians realize that? Authorize alternative places for them where their needs will be addressed. Find a solution beyond interdiction to suspend, … Read More

    This concerns me as the students demonstrating willful defiance are impeding education for all the others who are in school to learn. The educator is dismissed, the students are hostages to the moods, violence, and control of a minority that is empowered by those who should removed them from the classrooms they disturb.

    Can’t politicians realize that? Authorize alternative places for them where their needs will be addressed. Find a solution beyond interdiction to suspend, respect and protect teaching and learning for those who want to be productive and upstanding citizens.

  11. Mark 3 months ago3 months ago

    The K-3 bill, 100% agree with. Expanding the bill should continue to be met with this message,

    “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.”