California is Trying to Prevent Schools from Suspending Students for “Willful Defiance”


Next school year, it is possible that California schools will be unable to suspend students for “willful defiance” of their superiors. The state already has a ban in place to prevent these suspensions for students in K-3, but Senator Nancy Skinner wants to extend this ban to grades 4-8 and eventually 9-12. According to the data gathered, students of color, LGBTQ students, and students with disabilities are all targets of the suspensions for “defiant and disruptive behavior.” These minority groups are more likely to be singled out for their behavior than the typical student because of their cultural, physical, sexual, or emotional differences. It’s 2019, and many of California’s government officials, like the public, want to promote equality and stop these unwarranted suspensions in their schools.

Senate Bill 419

Senate Bill 419 bans the suspension of elementary, middle school, and high school students for “defiant and disruptive behavior” until January 1, 2025. Senator Skinner, the bill’s author, explains its necessity by reminding the Senate that “under this highly subjective category, students are sent to an empty home, with no supervision, and denied valuable instructional time for anything from failing to turn in homework, not paying attention, or refusing to follow directions…” Instead of suspending or recommending expulsion for those who act out, the new legislation encourages teachers and administrators to find alternative methods to discipline students who truly need it but refrain from penalizing individuals based on factors they cannot control. (Of course, students who cause harm or injury, possess a weapon on school grounds, steal private property, bully a peer, etc. are not affected by this suspension ban.)

The Controversy

There are many organizations, including the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color that support this bill because they don’t want students to be denied “valuable learning time from anything” and agree that there is a “disproportionate impact on students of color and other vulnerable student groups.” However, California’s charter schools and former Governor Jerry Brown have a different take. The Charter School Development Center’s opposition isn’t surprising mainly because charter schools are supposed to be independent of public school districts and already have their own measures in place, but Brown, who has previously rejected two similar bills, did so because he believes in local control. Last year, he said, “Teachers and principals are on the front lines of educating our children and are in the best position to make decisions about order and discipline in the classrooms,” and many, especially educators, agree with his logic. If the educators are the ones interacting with their students every day, aren’t they the best people to decide how to discipline the children?

Final Thoughts

I have no problem with suspensions but only when they are justified. It’s unfortunate that it has come to this, but when specific groups of people are targeted, something needs to be done at a higher level, and Senator Skinner is trying to do just that. “Willful defiance” shouldn’t be an excuse to suspend certain types of students, whether the singling out is intentional or not. Often, I’m sure the suspensions seem warranted at the time, but there are other ways to handle actions considered inappropriate for the classroom setting without removing students from school. If everyone isn’t held to the same behavioral standards in the classroom, if some are much more likely to be suspended than others, suspension isn’t the answer. As long as they aren’t harming anyone, there must be another solution. 

Too many students who are considered “different” are both consciously and unconsciously mistreated and misunderstood by their schools. From someone who has firsthand experience, I can tell you it doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t feel good to be called out because of your differences. It doesn’t feel good when you know a teacher or administrator is mistreating you because of your disability or race or sexual orientation. If California wants to try to change one of the many inequalities some students face in school, let them.


This post was written by one of U4SC’s Educators 4SC Research Assistants, Samantha.

[Image Attribute: dhendrix73]