By Stephen Ceasar, LA Times | http://lat.ms/144LcDv
Civil rights leaders are encouraging Gov. Jerry Brown to support legislation that would ban expulsions and restrict suspensions for "willful defiance" in California schools. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times / January 24, 2013)
August 15, 2013, 5:19 p.m. :: Civil right leaders from across the country sent a letter this week to Gov. Jerry Brown encouraging him to support legislation that would ban expulsions and restrict suspensions for "willful defiance" in California schools.
The bill, AB 420, by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento), would bar administrators from expelling students for willful defiance — an offense criticized as a subjective catch-all for behaviors such as refusing to remove a hat, turn off a cellphone or wear a school uniform.
Under the measure, students in elementary schools -- grades kindergarten through fifth -- could not be suspended for such reasons. Students in middle and high schools could be suspended for a third offense only after other disciplinary actions were employed first.
The legislation has passed the state Assembly and is awaiting action in the Senate.
The bill is less restrictive than a similar bill that Brown vetoed last year that would have completely barred the expulsion or suspension of defiant students.
Willful defiance accounted for nearly half of the 710,000 suspensions issued in California in 2011-12, prompting efforts at the state and local levels to restrict its use in disciplinary actions.
School district data in Los Angeles and nationwide have shown that African American students are disproportionately suspended for such offenses.
The legislation “will translate into higher achievement and improved graduation rates for all children, but especially help the subgroups that are too often entirely excluded from school because of minor school code infractions,” the letter reads.
“We need to lift our children up, not lock them up, not throw them away. Every day that we allow a student of color or a student with disabilities to be locked out of school, we take a step back as a nation. We must be better than that,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who signed the letter along with nearly two dozen others.
In May, the Los Angeles Unified School District was the first school system in the state to ban defiance as grounds for suspension.
African Americans were disproportionately affected in the district — accounting for 26% of those suspended in L.A. Unified in 2010-11, although they made up 9% of the student population.
LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL'S DIGEST: AB 420, as amended, Dickinson. Pupil discipline: suspensions: willful defiance.
Existing law prohibits a pupil from being suspended from school or recommended for expulsion, unless the superintendent of the school district or the principal of the school in which the pupil is enrolled determines that the pupil has committed a specified act, including, among other acts, disrupting school activities or otherwise willfully defying the valid authority of supervisors, teachers, administrators, school officials, or other school personnel engaged in the performance of their duties.
This bill would limit that authority of a superintendent of a school district and a principal
by only allowing regarding disruptive or similar pupil conduct by prohibiting a recommendation of expulsion for a pupil on those basis. It would limit the authority to suspend for disruptive or similar conduct to a pupil who is enrolled in any of grades 6 to 12, inclusive, to be suspended, but not expelled, for willful defiance who has substantially disrupted school activities or substantially prevented instruction from occurring, only on or after the 3rd offense in a school year, provided and only if the pupil’s parent, guardian, or education rights holder has been informed that other specified correction measures were attempted before the recommendation to suspend. The bill also would state the intent of the Legislature to minimize the excessive use of willful defiance to, among other things, address the disproportionate suspension of particular subgroups of pupils and encourage schools to instead prioritize and use alternative means of correction.