As the 2017 legislative year draws to a close, an important student discipline measure is nearing the Governor’s desk. Senate Bill 607 (Skinner, D-Berkeley) proposes to expand and extend current laws governing suspensions and expulsions related to willful defiance. In 2014, Assembly Bill 420 was signed into law. The bill, which sunsets in June 2018, forbids suspensions for pupils in grades K-3, and also bans schools from recommending expulsion for K-12 students on the grounds of willful defiance. Willful defiance is defined as behavior that disrupts school activities or otherwise willfully defies the valid authority of those school personnel engaged in the performance of their duties. SB 607, which is on the Assembly Floor awaiting a vote as of this writing, would permanently prohibit the use of willful defiance as a reason to expel students in grades K-5. It would also extend the prohibition of willful defiance as a reason for suspending or expelling students in grades 6-12 until July of 2023. “The larger issue surrounding willful defiance and pupil discipline is that there is an immediate and critical need for professional development and training for school staff on more positive discipline techniques,” said CSBA Legislative Advocate Erika Hoffman. “Until that happens, for teachers and administrators, there are still going to be ongoing issues with how to better engage with and handle disruptive students.” CSBA is supportive of finding alternatives for suspending and expelling students, but has voiced concerns about the wholesale deletion of one of the “tools” in the list of actions available to address student behavior without providing another alternative to address behavioral issues. Hoffman also notes that no recent data on student discipline, in particular as it relates to the use of willful defiance, has been made available since 2015. SB 607 author Sen. Nancy Skinner told Cabinet Report in the spring that the bill is “trying to strike that important balance of enabling teachers to remove students from the classroom when they are disruptive, but still allowing students to stay in school.” Research has found that certain groups, including students with disabilities and African-American students, are more likely to be suspended or expelled, regardless of age. CSBA is in favor of comprehensive approaches to better support students, staff and administration in developing positive classroom cultures and implementing practices that promote healthy, equitable forms of school discipline. Please visit www.csba.org/legislativenews for updates on SB 607 and other 2017 legislation.
Published by California School Boards Association. View All Articles.