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Board declares support for bill that would further prohibit California schools from suspending students for willful defiance (07-02-19)

pic The Los Angeles Board of Education voted Tuesday to affirm support for California Senate Bill (SB) 419, which would expand California education code, prohibiting schools from suspending students in grades 4 through 12 for willfully defying authority (the practice is already illegal for students in kindergarten through grade 3). Passed by the Senate in April, the bill is now under review by the California Assembly Education Committee.

The resolution, co-sponsored by Board Vice President Jackie Goldberg and Board Members Mónica García, Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez, cites evidence of success in banning the practice, including a dramatic decrease in suspensions and instructional days lost since Los Angeles Unified enacted its own ban in 2013.

“If the largest school district in the state, with over 600,000 students, can end suspensions for willful defiance and disruption – so can California,” Goldberg said. “Because certain students – those with disabilities, youth in foster care, black, Latinx, LGBTQ – are the most likely to be targeted with this vague category of suspensions. Passing SB 419 will protect the education rights of our most vulnerable youth. The positive outcomes we have seen as a result of banning willful defiance and disruption suspensions make it clear: California must end this harmful practice and keep students in school and on track to graduate.”

“Six years ago, we challenged ourselves to end the ‘school to prison pipeline,’” García said. “I am proud to lift community voices to end suspension for ‘willful defiance.’  We have been rethinking discipline ever since we passed the School Climate Bill of Rights. We urge our state legislature to lead and join our community in this bold step in ensuring a safe, equitable and excellent educational environment.”

“The practice of suspending students for minor incidents or disruptions is detrimental to the education and wellbeing of those students,” Board Member Nick Melvoin said. “Our ban on this practice demonstrates our commitment to maintaining a safe and supportive learning environment for our school communities, and we support expanding this ban to students across the state.”

“All students do best in supportive learning environments,” Gonez said. “We owe it to our communities to support our children and keep them in class, rather than push out our most vulnerable students from our classrooms. Senate Bill 419 will build on the work Los Angeles Unified has led to reduce suspensions and keep students across California learning.”

In addition to declaring support for the bill, the resolution directs the superintendent to produce a report demonstrating the effects of the 2013 adoption of the School Climate Bill of Rights and to articulate the need and urgency of passing SB 419 in the Assembly.

“We support the State of California’s leadership in teaching students the value of good citizenship,” Superintendent Austin Beutner said. “We want to keep all students safe and learning in school.”

“While I believe this is a step in the right direction, I do not see it as a complete solution,” Board Member Dr. George J. McKenna III said. “We have not yet had adequate discussions around what we should be doing to support our teachers and administrators in effectively managing problem student behaviors.”

“Every experienced school administrator knows that the foundation for effective learning and good citizenship is keeping our students in school,” Board Member Scott M. Schmerelson said. “I am very proud of Los Angeles for leading the way in innovating positive, socially and emotionally supportive methods of managing behavioral issues in our school and that the entire State of California is now poised to follow our examples.”

Several members of the community – including students – spoke in favor of the resolution. Among them was David C. Turner III, manager of the Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition.

“Every year across the state, thousands of students are pushed out of the classroom and miss out on valuable opportunities for learning,” he said. “Los Angeles Unified has already been a leader in ending this harmful practice and can continue to be a champion for our students by ensuring our voices are heard loudly and clearly in Sacramento in ending this statewide.”

Among those providing the student perspective was Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition member and current Garfield High School student Jonathan Calles.

"As a student, I feel the school environment has changed for the better thanks to the School Climate Bill of Rights," he said. "Students feel safer. They no longer have to fear being suspended for superficial infractions like having ear buds in or wearing a hat. Students are allowed to stay in class and further their education instead of it being taken away. I want to see this implemented across California one day. With this step it will help make that possible."