Sen. Nancy Skinner Announces Bill to Eliminate Willful Defiance Suspensions

February 27, 2019

State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, today unveiled Senate Bill 419, which seeks to keep kids in school by eliminating the suspension of students for low-level offenses known as “willful defiance.” Such suspensions have disproportionately impacted students of color, LGBTIQ students, and those with disabilities in California.

“SB 419 puts the needs of kids first,” Sen. Skinner said. “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.”

A willful defiance suspension can be for a minor offense, such as refusing to remove a hat or failing to complete schoolwork. Rather than helping students understand and correct behavior, willful defiance suspensions simply kick kids out of school.

Willful defiance suspensions have also historically targeted Black male students the most. According to the 2018 report Get Out! Black Male Suspensions in California Public Schools, suspensions for willful defiance represented 20.8 percent of all suspensions of Black male students in California middle schools. And in high school, it was 25.6 percent. In all, African-American male students in California schools are 3.3 times more likely to be suspended for willful defiance than the statewide average.

Five California school districts have eliminated willful defiance suspensions, including Oakland Unified in Sen. Skinner’s district, along with Los Angeles, San Francisco, Pasadena, and Azusa. In 2013, the Legislature passed AB 420, which prohibited willful defiance suspensions statewide for grades K-3 until July 2018. The state Legislature and the governor then extended the K-3 ban permanently last year.

SB 419 would go further by permanently eliminating willful defiance suspensions for grades K-8, and placing a moratorium on willful defiance suspensions of high school students until 2025. Under SB 419, teachers would retain the right to remove disruptive students from the classroom; the bill would only preempt full suspension, or removal of a student from school, for minor offenses.

SB 419 is also designed to help reduce dropout rates in California. According to the 2012 Johns Hopkins University study, Sent Home and Put Off-Track, “being suspended even once in 9th grade is associated with a two-fold increase in the risk for dropping out.”

“Suspensions are not a formula for student success. Kids lose valuable instruction time causing them to fall behind in their studies; those same students are also more likely to drop out,” Skinner said. “Ending willful defiance suspensions will keep kids in school where they belong and where teachers and counselors can help them thrive.”

Sen. Nancy Skinner (@NancySkinnerCA) represents the 9th Senate District.