New California Law Effectively Bans School Suspension of Children for ‘Willful Defiance’

September 16, 2019 Updated: September 16, 2019

A new law passed by the California state legislature and signed into law by Governor Newsom would effectively ban teachers and school administrators from suspending unruly students in public and charter elementary and middle schools.

However, not all educators have expressed support for the bill. Some education advocates have expressed concern that policies like this legislation would lead to teachers’ inability to keep order in the classroom, while the most disruptive and unruly students would be able to get away with their bad behavior.

“What’s happening with these policies is that no matter how cleverly they word them, is that classrooms are being taken over by the most disruptive students,” Rebecca Friedrichs, founder of the educational non-profit For Kids and Country and a public school teacher for 28 years, told The Epoch Times.

“Where these policies are fully implemented, administrators are more focused on incentives. All these schools care about is looking good rather than keeping children safe and educated. These policies are undermining the ability for good strong, loving teachers to keep classrooms safe and to deliver instruction without interruption.”

Friedrichs said this issue stemmed from an Obama-era Department of Education “Dear Colleague Letter” that asked all school districts to address suspension numbers allegedly due to racial bias held by teachers towards students of color.

The bill, SB-419, limits suspension to certain activities, such as acts of violence, drug possession or use, property damage, robbery, sexual assault, and others.

A previous bill, AB-420, passed in 2014, prohibited willful defiance suspensions in public schools statewide for grades K-3. SB-419 extends the ban to grades 4-5 permanently, while a ban on suspensions for grades 6-8 would sunset in five years. Some school districts in California have already implemented this policy, including Oakland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento.

“SB 419 puts the needs of kids first. Ending willful defiance suspensions will keep kids in school where they belong and where teachers and counselors can help them thrive,” said Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), who authored the bill, in a statement.

Proponents of the bill say that suspensions unfairly target students of color, who are punished more often for acting out than their white counterparts. Data taken from the California Department of Education shows that despite black students making up 6% of the student population, they constitute 17% of school suspensions in recent years, reported the Los Angeles Times.

Friedrichs, however, warned that implementing policies to reduce suspensions would not allow teachers to enforce basic rules and would have long lasting negative effects.

“We’ve seen across the country the negative impact of these very policies, yet our state legislature would brazenly pass extreme policies that are going to bring more harm to families, children and teachers,” she said.

SB-419 passed the State Senate with a vote of 31-8, and the State Assembly 58-17, largely along party lines, with nearly all Democrats in favor and nearly all Republicans opposed. It will go into effect on July 1, 2020.

RECOMMENDED