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California Bill Would Ban Student Suspensions for Defying Teachers, Disrupting Classes

A California Senate bill introduced last week would ban schools from suspending students who disrupt class or defy teachers—known as willful defiance suspensions.

Sen. Nancy Skinner (D. Berkeley), introduced Senate Bill 274 that said such suspensions lead students to drop out and exacerbate learning losses at a moment when many are still behind from the COVID-19 epidemic.

Skinner stated that such suspensionsdisproportionately affect Black male students. He cited a 2018 Study According to the study, they were three times more likely than the state average to be suspended because of willful defiance.

“SB 274 is based on a simple premise: students belong in school,” Skinner stated in a Feb. 1, press release. “Instead of kicking them out of school, we owe it to students to figure out what’s causing them to act out and help them fix it.”

This file photo shows state senator Nancy Skinner (D–Berkeley), and state senator Steven Glazer (D–Orinda) celebrating the approval of a measure by the Senate in Sacramento (Calif.) on September 11, 2019. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo)

The new bill builds on Skinner’s 2019 now-passed legislation, which permanently banned willful defiance suspensions statewide for grades TK–5 and those for grades 6–8 until 2025.

The new bill would permanently prohibit them for all grades, TK–12, by the fall of 2024.

It would also ban suspension or expulsion of students due to tardiness or other truancy.

“The punishment for missing school should not be to miss more school,” Skinner, “Students, especially those with behavioral issues, need to be in school where teachers and counselors can help them succeed.”

Some others, however, argue that students who are disruptive in the classroom make it difficult for teachers to teach and for students to learn.

Davina Keiser was a former educator who taught in the Long Beach Unified Schools District for 40 years. She told the Epoch Times disruptive behavior was a problem. “detrimental to the learning of everybody else in the classroom.”

“It’s almost like a license for the rest of the kids to go ahead and misbehave,” She spoke.

Keiser continues to serve as a substitute teacher in the District and is also the president for the education nonprofit Del Rey Education.

“As teachers, I wanted students to know that there are boundaries, and they have to stay within those,” She spoke.

The proposed policy reflects a nationwide trend of replacing disciplinary actions with what’s called a “restorative justice” approach—which focuses on mediation over punishment.

Epoch Times Photo
Students walk to their classes at a Los Angeles middle school on Sept. 10, 2021. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

This may encourage more rebellion, as students know there is no punishment for being disruptive in classes, stated Lance Christensen vice president of education policy at the California Policy Center.

Disruptive students who have not been disciplined could continue their disruptive ways “act out in larger measure later,” He told The Epoch Times.

“When these bills take away the tools for dealing with those who are willfully defiant, all they do is just move the violence to a higher level and escalate the violence,” He said. “[Y]ou cannot just throw the baby out with the bathwater and get rid of a discipline policy that works.”

The root of the issue, Christensen said, is often the student’s family and home life.

Students with disintegrated families, or families conflicted with other problems, often don’t teach their children to respect authority and how to behave in a classroom and participate in a positive way.

“That’s a whole set of social ills that would take more than a piece of legislation to fix,” Christensen said.

He additionally said if such legislation is being considered because of data related to race, that’s ill-guided.

“If a kid is willfully defiant, the race or the color of their skin shouldn’t matter at all,” He said.

Keiser agreed.

“I always felt like it didn’t matter if a student is an ethnic minority or not,” She spoke. “We’re supposed to provide equal opportunity for all students. And we’re supposed to treat them all with the same respect, care, and consequences.”

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