New bill would make willful defiance a thing of the past

New bill would make willful defiance a thing of the past

(Calif.) Schools will no longer be able to suspend or expel any student for willful defiance no matter their age under a bill that moved out of the Senate education committee Wednesday.

Separate bills passed by the committee would authorize California community colleges to offer teacher credentialing programs, and would standardize  the process for reclassifying to English learners .

SB 607 would extend current law that bans schools from suspending or expelling students between kindergarten and third grade for willful defiance–a category that has been used as a catchall and can include misbehaviors such as sleeping in class, refusing to turn off a cellphone or yelling obscenities at a teacher.

“SB 607 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,” said Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, the bill’s author. “We know that students who have been suspended or expelled are more likely to drop out, more likely to end up in the criminal justice system, and it jeopardizes their future.”

Numerous reports have found students with special needs and African American students are more likely than their peers to receive harsher punishments for misbehaviors that fall under subjective categories such as willful disobedience. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights found that in 2006, black females in middle school were suspended more than four times as often as white females in their grade.

Similarly, more than 28 percent of black male middle school students had been suspended at least once, which was about three times the rate of white boys in that age group. Students with disabilities are about twice as likely as their non-disabled peers to be suspended or expelled.

Although the bill has no formal opposition, a representative from the California School Boards Association said that the organization will support the bill if the 10-year sunset period is shortened, although the organization has other issues with the bill as well.

“Until we get restorative justice programs in every school with every teacher and administrator trained on how to deal with children or better talk to them, we’re still going to have these issues,” the CSBA spokeswoman said. “As we start taking away a tool, whether it’s a good or bad one, until we provide the training and ability of schools to implement the progressive prevention programs, I think we’re shortchanging everybody–because even though it’s just one child, in a classroom of 30 or 40, everybody else is affected too.”

Skinner noted that while her bill eliminates the option for schools to suspend or recommend for expulsion for a disruptive or defiant student, it still allows teachers to suspend students from class for up to two days.

“Often, willful defiance has underlying causes, such as issues at home or learning disabilities,” Skinner said. “So allowing teachers to be able to remove these students from the classroom when they are acting out, but not suspend them, is what we’re trying to achieve.”

SB 577, authored by Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, seeks to build up the new teacher pipeline by allowing the state’s community colleges to offer teacher preparation programs. According to Dodd, more people who are interested in teaching but cannot afford tuition at a California State University campus or live too far from one would be more likely to enter the profession.

He did note amid opposition from a spokesperson from the CSU system that his plan was one of what will have to be many avenues to addressing the state’s teacher shortage. However, because urban and rural areas of the state often face the most severe shortages, allowing new teachers to earn their credential closer to home at a lower cost will benefit the schools in their own communities most.

“This is just one strategy to address the shortage of teachers, and it will take more strategies,” Dodd said. “This isn’t the silver bullet.”

A third bill–SB 463, authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens–would require local education agencies to determine English learner reclassification. Currently, the California Department of Education must establish procedures for the reclassification of a student from English learner to English proficient.

Lara’s bill would establish statewide criteria for reclassifying English learners to remove any confusion between districts that may have varying reclassification policies, and require that LEAs determine reclassification of students according to the uniform criteria.