Calif. expands ban on school suspensions for ‘willful defiance’

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SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law Tuesday expanding restrictions on schools suspending students for misbehavior broadly categorized as “willful defiance.”

The new restrictions will take hold in all the state’s public and charter schools for grades four through eight. The suspensions were already banned in grades K-3.

The ban for sixth, seventh and eighth grades have what’s called a “sunset clause” for five years, meaning they will be revisited and have to be reapproved to remain in place after 2025.

Proponents of the ban argue willful defiance is too broad a category to warrant removing kids from class, risking them falling further behind in their studies for lower-level violations such as repeatedly wearing a hat in violation of dress code. Supporters also argue that the category is disproportionately applied to suspend students of color.

“SB 419 puts the needs of kids first,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley. “Ending willful defiance suspensions will keep kids in school where they belong and where teachers and counselors can help them thrive.”

Skinner argued research shows rather than higher rates of misbehavior, students of color face more frequent suspensions because of implicit bias on the part of teachers. Proponents say categories with the most subjectivity, such as willful defiance, allow more influence by that bias than suspensions for things such as drug use, violence or theft, which are still permitted by the law.

Opponents of the bill said it took a tool away from teachers and administrators for controlling their classrooms.

The Charter School Development Center called SB 419 is “one size fits all” legislation that is “a fix in search of a problem.”

“When you’re that young, you’re easily influenced. So, whatever you can get away with you will. You’re basically laying the foundation for future behavior,” Lubav Westergren, an opponent of the bill, told KPIX.

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