California bans schools from suspending students solely for disruptive behavior

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has signed off on legislation banning schools in the state from suspending students for disruptive behavior.

Senate Bill 419, signed into law by Newsom on Monday, will amend the California Education Code to prohibit public and charter schools in the state from suspending students in grades 4-8 for “disrupting school activities or otherwise willfully defying the valid authority of those school personnel engaged in the performance of their duties.”

Existing law already prohibited schools from suspending or recommending expulsion for students enrolled in kindergarten or in grades 1-3 for such actions.

The legislation is slated to take effect at the start of July 2020 and will prohibit the suspension of students in grades 6-8 , specifically, for such acts until July 1, 2025.

State Sen. Nancy Skinner (D), who wrote the bill, said in a statement earlier this year that she hopes the measure “will keep kids in school where they belong and where teachers and counselors can help them thrive.”

She told a local CBS station in a statement this week that “ending willful defiance suspensions may be one of the best ways to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.”

The Alliance for Boys and Men of Color echoed similar remarks in a statement obtained by the station, in which it said SB 419 “would eliminate disruption/defiance as grounds for suspensions for all grade levels and keep more students in schools.”

“Because it is so subjective, suspensions based on Section 48900(k) raise serious concerns about their disproportionate impact on students of color and other vulnerable student groups— including students with disabilities and/or those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), and/or gender non-conforming,” the organization said.

The group added that research “confirms that there is even greater disproportionality for students in these groups suspended for low level, subjective offenses, like defiance/disruption, compared to higher level, more objective offenses.”

“SB 419 and the elimination of suspension for disruption/defiance will result in an overall reduction in suspensions and an increase in positive outcomes for students and the communities in which they live,” it said.

The move has been met with opposition from the Charter School Development Center, based in Sacramento, which told the station that “Charter schools were created to be public schools exempt from most sections of the California Education Code. Imposing unnecessary restrictions on these schools of choice is counterintuitive to the original intent of the legislature.”

“Charter law requires each school’s petition to address issues of expulsion and this law would effectively overwrite the language of 1,300 charter petitions causing significant disruption at the local level. Further, this bill is based on no credible evidence of an expulsion problem in California charter schools,” the group added. “To the contrary, charter schools often serve as a school of last resort of students who have been expelled from traditional schools and these pupils thrive in a charter school environment.”

According to a 2018 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, black students, boys, and students with disabilities were found to have been disproportionately disciplined from kindergarten to grades 1-12 in public schools.

The office said that the study, which analyzed data from Department of Education for the 2013-14 school year, showed that “disparities were widespread and persisted regardless of the type of disciplinary action, level of school poverty, or type of public school attended.”

In an analysis of SB 419, the California state Senate also pointed to a recent study that found that found students lost over 150,000 days of school due to such suspensions in the 2016-17 school year.