New Bill Would Expand Ban on Suspensions for “Willful Defiance”

The Education Code currently provides that students enrolled in grades K through 3 may not be suspended pursuant to Education Code 48900(k).  Furthermore, no student regardless of grade level may be recommended for expulsion based on a violation of that provision.  Senate Bill (SB) 419, introduced by Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) on February 21, 2019, would expand the existing ban on suspensions for violations of 48900(k) to students enrolled in grades 4 through 8.  In addition, the ban would also extend to students enrolled in grades 9 through 12, but this provision is scheduled to sunset on January 1, 2025.  The proposed bill also applies the ban to charter schools.

The bill expressly encourages superintendents and principals to provide alternatives to suspension or expulsion, using a research-based framework with strategies to improve behavioral and academic outcomes that are age-appropriate and designed to address and correct specific misbehavior.

 Last August, the Legislature passed a bill similar to SB 419 which was also introduced by Sen. Skinner.  That bill, SB 607 was vetoed by then Governor Brown on the grounds that teachers and principals, rather than legislators, were in the best position to make decisions regarding order and discipline.  However, Sen. Skinner believes that Governor Newsom will be more amenable to the new proposed bill.

 While suspensions in California schools have significantly decreased over the past few years, “willful defiance” remains the primary reason for suspensions.  Civil rights advocates argue that “willful defiance” is a subjective category used to justify the removal of students for minor rule infractions, and that these suspensions disproportionately affect minority and disabled students.  Advocates also argue that alternative solutions such as intervention programs, mentoring, and social-emotional learning should be used instead of suspension. 

At the time of this post, SB 419 is being reviewed by the Assembly.  The Governor’s office has yet to comment on the bill. The text of the proposed bill can be read and tracked here.  If you have questions or concerns about the potential implications of SB 419 in your district, contact the authors or your trusted counsel at AALRR.

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