Gov. Newsom signed Senate Bill 419 by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley. SB 419 is designed to keep kids in school by eliminating willful defiance suspensions in grades 4-5 and banning them in grades 6-8 for five years. The new law applies to both traditional public schools and charter schools.
“SB 419 puts the needs of kids first,” Sen. Skinner said. “Ending willful defiance suspensions will keep kids in school where they belong and where teachers and counselors can help them thrive.”
SB 419 received bipartisan support in the California Legislature, winning approval in the state Senate on a 31-8 vote, and garnering a 58-17 vote in the state Assembly. It takes effect on July 1, 2020.
Willful defiance suspensions are a highly subjective category of suspensions that include a student not removing a hat or hoodie in class. Research has shown that willful defiance suspensions have been disproportionately used to discipline students of color, LGBTQ students, and students with disabilities.
According to the 2018 report, “Get Out: Black Male Suspensions in California Public Schools,” by professors at UCLA and San Diego State University, among black male students, willful defiance suspensions represent 15% of all suspensions in grades 4-6 and 21% in grades 7-8. Overall, the suspension rate for black males in California schools is nearly four times the student average.
But research shows no evidence that African-American over-representation in school suspensions is due to higher rates of misbehavior. In fact, according to a comprehensive 2018 report and a review of research by the U.S. Government Accounting Office, “implicit bias on the part of teachers and staff may cause them to judge students’ behaviors differently based on the students’ race and sex.”
Several California school districts have already eliminated willful defiance suspensions, including Oakland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento. In 2013, the Legislature passed AB 420, which prohibited willful defiance suspensions statewide for grades K-3 until July 2018, the ban on K-3 suspensions was made permanent in a 2018-19 budget trailer bill. SB 419 now extends the existing ban on willful defiance suspensions to grades 4 and 5 statewide, with the prohibition on such suspensions for grades 6 through 8, sunsetting in five years.
“Ending willful defiance suspensions may be the one of the best ways to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline,” Skinner added.
Sen. Nancy Skinner represents the 9th Senate District.