Calif. eyes banning “willful defiance” suspensions in middle, high schools

California schools and teachers may have to get more creative at handling their most disruptive students during the school day.

California lawmakers are considering a measure that would permanently extend the ban on so-called “willful defiance” suspensions in middle and high schools after 2025.

The measure, which follows a law banning such removals of students in kindergarten through fifth grade, would force schools and teachers to take more steps to deescalate disruptive students in the classroom.


Deep dive: The bill would also prohibit the suspension and expulsion of students due to tardiness or truancy, but educators could still suspend students for more severe actions, such as physical violence, possession or use of drugs, theft, or bullying.

The ban on willful defiance suspensions has already been implemented in some school districts, including Los Angeles, Pasadena, San Francisco, and Oakland, which revamped its disciplinary policies in 2015 to end willful defiance suspensions.

Supporters of the bill argue that willful defiance suspensions disproportionately affect Black, Latino, and indigenous students, leading to higher dropout rates in these communities, according to a state report.

The other side: Opponents of the bill, including some educators and the powerful California Teachers Association, argue that teachers do not have the resources to safely implement it at higher grade levels with older, and sometimes physically larger, students.

Some also argue that the bill may not improve state academics.

Some school districts have adopted alternative methods to removing students from school, such as restorative practices, harm repair, and counseling, to address the root cause of student behaviors.

What they’re saying: “If you’re not taught basic tools to support and manage a classroom, then you are going to see behaviors escalate to a point where you might feel a little loss of control or safety in the environment that you’re supposed to support,” Justine Bernacet, a seventh-grade teacher at KIPP Sol Academy, a charter middle school in East Los Angeles told the LA Times. She is a supporter – albeit cautious one – of the bill.

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