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Brown signs bill limiting ‘willful defiance’ suspensions, expulsions

Craig Clough | September 29, 2014

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jerry brown

Gov. Jerry Brown

With the signing of AB 420, Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday made California the first state in the nation to limit suspensions and expulsions for the reason of “willful defiance,” a term critics call a catch-all phrase that can be hard to define but includes such categories as talking back, refusing assignments or violating the dress code.

The bill eliminates “willful defiance” suspensions and expulsions for the next 3 1/2 years for children in grades K-3 for disruptive behavior and eliminates expulsions for all students. The bill will have limited impact on LA Unified, which in 2013 became the first school district in the state to ban “willful defiance” as grounds for suspension, a groundbreaking move that paved the way for AB 420.

“This is the first step to restorative justice for all youth. We expect more from California and will keep fighting for more,” LA Unified Board Member Monica Garcia said in a statement. “Thank you to all of the community leaders, parents and students in Los Angeles and throughout the state who continue to fight to ensure that all youth stay in school and on track.”

The bill comes after new federal guidelines were issued this year aimed at helping schools in “administering discipline in a nondiscriminatory way and to provide alternatives to overly punitive school discipline practices.”

AB 420 was co-sponsored by Public Counsel, Children Now, Fight Crime Invest in Kids, and the ACLU of California.

Willful defiance “disproportionately affects students of color, LGBTQ students, and students with disabilities,” according to the ACLU’s website, which also noted that about 600 K-3 students are expelled and 10,000 are suspended each year in California under “willful defiance,” which could include something as minor as missing a homework assignment.

Willful defiance accounts for 43 percent of suspensions of California students and is the suspension offense category with the most significant racial disparities, according to Public Counsel.

“In just a few short years, school discipline reform has become an important education policy priority in California because the stakes are very high – research has shown that even one suspension can make it five times more likely that a child will drop out of school and significantly increase the odds they will get in trouble and head into our juvenile delinquency system,” Roger Dickinson, an Assembly member from Sacramento and author of AB 420, said in a statement.

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