S. E. Williams

Contributor

Willful defiance and disruptive behavior are terms used by education officials in California to describe non-violent misbehavior.

A May revision to the 2018-19 budget proposal by Governor Jerry Brown included an extension of the state law that defines student discipline,  suspensions, expulsions and willful defiance guidelines for students in kindergarten through third grade. 

Advocates who continue pushing to expand these guidelines to include all California students up to and including grade 12 were pleased to learn Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) who supports this position, sits on the 10-member committee charged with reconciling various budget proposals by the Legislature’s June 15 deadline. The hope is she can positively influence change on this issue as part of the budget process. 

Skinner has made two previous attempts to move legislation forward in this regard. Her recent measure, SB607, would do exactly that by banning willful defiance and disruption suspensions across all grades K-12.

In 2012, despite study after study that has showed how Black, Brown and students with disabilities are the ones most disproportionately impacted by such suspensions, Brown vetoed Skinner’s measure that called for a complete ban on such suspension in all grades, K-12. 

In 2014, the governor agreed to the current compromise bill that banned willful defiance suspensions for students in grades K-3 only. Although the compromise provided some relief, it was only temporary. The measure will sunset on July 1, unless an agreement is reached as part of the budget process, or Skinner’s current legislation, SB607, becomes law. 

According to the publication EdSource, in the May budget amendment, Governor Brown sought to do away with the sunset clause and make the K- 3 ban permanent. Even though Skinner’s bill called for such suspensions to be banned for all students, it was not considered by the governor as part of his amendment even though the bill had already passed the full Senate, the Assembly Education Committee, and was just waiting for a vote of the full Assembly.  

When Brown vetoed Skinner’s legislation in 2012, he purportedly did so because he did not want to limit the discretion and authority of school officials to administer discipline as they deemed appropriate. Provided that is still the governor’s position, it does not explain why he was willing to limit their use of discretion for students in grades K-3? Did the governor not trust how the school officials were using their authority regarding those students? Why has Brown placed administrative discretion above the fair and equitable treatment of minority and disabled students in the remaining grade levels? 

Although suspensions have declined in recent years, the unjust administration of discipline persists. For example, during the 2016-17 school year according to the ACLU, Black and Brown boys received 54 percent of such suspensions even though they are only 28 percent of the state’s student population. 

If the issue is not resolved in budget negotiations scheduled to conclude by June 15, advocates are hopeful SB607 will receive a “yes” vote in the Assembly in time to reach the governor’s desk before he leaves office.   Yet, even if it does, there is still no guarantee Governor Brown will sign it into law. 

You can let the governor know where you stand on this important issue by calling (916) 558-3160 or by email.