New California Law Bans ‘Willful Defiance' Suspensions in Grades K-8

Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill preventing schools from suspending students for class disruptions and refusing to follow authority.

California students in kindergarten through eighth grade can no longer be suspended for “willful defiance,” under a new law signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday.

Senate Bill 419 will make it illegal for public and charter schools to suspend students for "willful defiance." According to the San Diego Unified School District, willful defiance is defined as “disrupting school activities or otherwise refusing to follow the valid authority of school personnel.”

For example, if a student refuses a teacher’s request to take off his or her hat or hoodie in the classroom, that would fall under willful defiance.

Senator Nancy Skinner from Berkeley wrote the bill and she said, "Ending willful defiance suspensions will keep kids in school where they belong and where teachers and counselors can help them thrive.”

Amy Epsten, a mother of two children in kindergarten said she was not a big fan of the concept.

“I think kids need discipline and these laws are getting harder and harder for teachers to manage a classroom, and kids are smart they know why they can get away with,” Epsten said.

As the law stands now, schools cannot suspend students in kindergarten through third grade for willful defiance, but the new law extends that ban to include students up to eighth grade.

Beginning in 2020, schools will no longer be able to suspend students in grades four and five. However suspensions in grades six, seven and eight would be banned for the next five years.

Some parents who support this measure say suspensions are intrusive to their children’s learning experiences.

“I wouldn’t want fourth and fifth graders to get suspended and stop learning,” said Frankie Santos, father of a third grader.

“We've tried suspension and look at our data: Have we addressed needs of young people by just asking them to leave the room?” said Michelle Ferrar a district expert in restorative justice.

Ferrar said restorative justice aims at providing a safe environment of humanity and healing based on three Rs: respect, relationships and responsibility. San Diego Unified School District has been using a restorative justice program to discipline students for some time. 

“We can’t address the root causes of what’s happening in young people’s lives if they’re not in the room, and they don’t even feel they can go to supportive adults,” Ferrar added.

The bill notes that students can still be suspended for violence, bringing a weapon or illegal drugs to school.

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