More than 40% of all suspensions and about 10% of expulsions in California’s public schools are due to an offense known as “willful defiance.”
But what is willful defiance?
The California Education Code does not contain a clear definition of willful defiance, leaving school districts or even individual school employees to their own devices in determining the law’s scope.
There have been situations where students have faced severe disciplinary action over minor offenses. In one case, a student was sent home after being threatened with suspension for being defiant because he was not wearing his uniform shirt under a sweater after playing basketball. Situations like this are all too common in California and nationwide. The tens of thousands of suspensions in California each year over conduct that doesn't threaten personal safety reflect a systemic failure. These students are not falling through the cracks; rather they are shoved into them by overreaching policies and an ambiguous state law.
A handful of school districts like Los Angeles Unified School District have already implemented alternative disciplinary methods to suspension and expulsion. Such methods include a peer-led court, mediation, counseling and even in-school suspensions. But we are not living in the best of all possible worlds.
Until there is educational reform statewide, disproportionate discipline will affect the most vulnerable student populations.
However, with AB 420 there is hope. By limiting the ambiguity of willful defiance, AB 420 (Pupil discipline; suspensions; willful defiance) will reduce school pushout and protect the rights of all students, particularly those disproportionately affected like students of color, students with disabilities and LGBTQ students. So far, the State Assembly has passed AB 420 and is waiting to be brought up for a vote on the Senate floor.
There is much to be done to stop student pushout, and you can be a part of it. On August 14th at noon, the ACLU of California along with its coalition partners will be holding a rally on the north steps of the State Capitol in Sacramento to guarantee that the voices of students, parents, teachers and advocates are heard by our decision-makers.
Join the rally in support of this crucial education bill and let’s set the record straight: Every student deserves the chance to graduate.
Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for rally details.
Joey Hernández, @jhernandez2345, is Community Engagement and Policy Advocate at the ACLU of Southern California.