Print this Article

Bill Would Curb “Willful Defiance” as Reason for Suspension

School Discipline Reform Legislation Approved by Assembly Education Committee

April 25, 2013

Assembly Bill 420 authored by Assemblymember Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento) was approved on April 17 by a unanimous bipartisan vote by the Assembly Education Committee. The bill would take a large step towards fixing California’s broken school discipline practices. In California alone, there are more than 700,000 student suspensions per year. AB 420 would curb the excessive use of willful defiance as a reason to suspend and expel students.

“Kids who have been suspended or expelled are five times more likely to drop out and 11 times more likely to turn to crime,” said Dickinson, Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Delinquency Prevention and Youth Development. “We must address behavioral issues with alternative means of correction so we can keep young people in school and on track to graduate, and out of the criminal justice system.”

Existing law provides that students can be suspended or recommended for expulsion from a school district for 24 different reasons. One of those reasons is “willful defiance,” defined as “disrupting school activities or otherwise willfully defying the valid authority of school staff.”  New data released on April 19 by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson finds that more than half of all suspensions and a quarter of expulsions are for “willful defiance” in California. Under this highly subjective category, students are sent home and denied valuable instruction time for anything from failing to turn in homework, not paying attention, refusing to take off a coat or hat, or swearing in class. They can also be potentially expelled from the district for such offenses.

Research reveals that students of color are disproportionately suspended and expelled for low level, subjective offenses like willful defiance, and this leads these students to have disproportionately worse educational outcomes than other student groups. The new data found that African Americans make up 6.5 percent of the student body of public schools and comprise 19 percent of all suspensions. By comparison, white students comprise 26 percent of the students but just 20 percent of suspensions.

AB 420 would eliminate the use of willful defiance as a reason to suspend students in grades 1 through 5 and would eliminate the use of willful defiance as a reason to expel students in all grades. Additionally, AB 420 would limit the authority of a superintendent of a school district and principal by only allowing a pupil enrolled in grades 6 to 12 to be suspended for willful defiance on or after the 3rd offense in a school year, provided that other means of correction were attempted before the recommendation to suspend. 

Instead of suspensions, the bill seeks to turn school administrators towards using alternative forms of correcting mild forms of student misbehavior which research has shown helps students recognize the disruptive effect of their behavior as well as deal with the underlying cause of their misbehavior. These alternatives also allow the students to remain in class and continue their education without disruption and has proven positive results for students over time.

A similar bill authored by Dickinson, AB 2242, was vetoed by the Governor last year. AB 420 is co-sponsored by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California, Children Now, Public Counsel, ACLU, and Brothers Sons Selves. AB 420 will next be heard in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Source:  Office of Assemblymember Roger Dickinson