Wave of new bills aim to reduce CA suspension rates

Wave of new bills aim to reduce CA suspension rates

(Calif.) Students at risk of being suspended from school will undergo a more transparent disciplinary process according to authors of a trio of bills introduced in both the California Senate and Assembly.

One bill would require students receive more information about what steps were taken prior to a teacher or school staff member recommending suspension; the second would remove “willful defiance” from the list of reasons a student could be suspended; and the last bill would ensure a parent or guardian is contacted before a student is suspended so that they may advocate for that child.

“Parents are an important part of a student’s success, and when students are having a behavioral problem or are facing a challenge in school, it’s important to bring their parents in as early as possible to support the student,” Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-Marin County, author of AB 576, said in an interview. “We can have that dialogue between a teacher and parents to create an opportunity to positively engage the parents and ensure the school experience one that is focused on learning.”

Moves to restructure disciplinary policies have been driven by state and federal reports regarding high suspension and dropout rates. According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, almost 7,000 preschoolers were suspended during the 2013-14 school year–California enacted the nation’s first statewide ban on K-3 suspensions for “willful defiance” shortly after that report was released.

Studies from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education have concluded that chronic school absence is regularly linked to low academic achievement, high dropout rates and increased likelihood of contact with the juvenile justice system. In turn, many states have sought to step away from zero-tolerance disciplinary policies, which often lead to higher suspension rates, and tend to disproportionately affect children of color or those with disabilities.

 In California, an informal conference between the principal and student must occur prior to the child receiving a suspension. If possible, it is recommended the teacher or school employee who referred the pupil to the principal attend as well.

AB 576, authored by Levine, requires a school employee to make a reasonable effort to contact the student’s parent or guardian in person or by telephone and notify them that the informal conference is scheduled to occur.

The bill would also mandate that the student’s teacher inform the parent or guardian if the child has been issued a detention and may be considered for suspension if he or she repeats the action or behavior.

The second bill, AB 667, authored by Assemblywoman Eloise Gómez Reyes, D-San Bernardino, would require that the student be informed of the other means of behavior correction that were attempted before the suspension. Under current law, a student must be told why they are being disciplined and told the evidence against him or her at the required informal conference. Students must also be given the opportunity to present their side of the story and provide evidence in their defense.

SB 607, authored by Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, would delete a provision of the Education Code that allows a child in grades 4 to 12 to be suspended or expelled from school for  disrupting school activities or willfully defying teachers or other school personnel.

Willful defiance has remained a largely undefined term that has been used as a catchall to cover offenses for everything from sleeping in class or refusing to turn off a cell phone to yelling obscenities at a teacher.

The bill would also require that a teacher ask the pupil’s parent or guardian to attend a group conference to discuss why the student received a suspension referral and seek solutions to the problem.

All three bills have been referred to the education committee of their respective houses.