Calif. Law Bans Suspensions for Falling Asleep, Talking Back to Teachers
Supporters of the law believe ending “willful defiance” suspensions will help disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.
A new California law says elementary and middle school students can’t be suspended for acts such as falling asleep or talking back to teachers.
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newson signed the bill Monday banning all state and public charter schools for suspending students for “willful defiance,” a broad category that also includes disrupting class or openly resisting directions from teachers, reports ABC 7.
The state had previously banned these types of suspensions for students up to third grade beginning in 2015. The new law permanently bans these suspensions for fourth and fifth graders and temporarily restricts them for grades six, seven and eight until 2025.
When the state banned suspensions up to third grade, suspensions fell by 30,000 in the first year. Since 2011, suspensions for willful defiance have dropped 82%.
“We want the teacher to be able to teach their class and not have disruptive students, but we also want to minimize these suspensions,” said bill author Sen. Nancy Skinner. “The more a child is suspended, the more likely they are to do bad in school and just do bad overall.”
Skinner referenced data from the California Department of Education, which shows Black students, who account for 5.6% of enrollment, made up 15.6% of all willful defiance suspensions in the 2017-2018 school year. White students, who account for 23.2% of enrollment, accounted for 20.2% of willful defiance suspensions.
Ending willful defiance suspensions, added Skinner, might be one of the best ways to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline by keeping students in school where teachers and counselors can provide support.
The California Teachers Association agrees, stating suspensions are not necessarily the most effective approach and should be the last resort. The group also believes districts should provide funding and resources to implement alternative discipline programs.
Former Democratic Governor Jerry Brown vetoed two similar bills, once in 2012 and once in 2018, according to U.S. News.
“Teachers and principals are on the front lines educating our children and are in the best position to make decisions about order and discipline in the classroom,” he wrote in a veto message.
The new law, which takes effect July 1, 2020, still allows teachers to remove students from the classroom for willful defiance.