California law bars school suspensions for students talking back to teachers

LOS ANGELES -- A new California law says elementary and middle schools can't suspend students for infractions like falling asleep in class or talking back to the teacher.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill Monday banning all state public and charter schools from suspending students for "willful defiance," which includes disrupting class or openly resisting directions from teachers.

While the Los Angeles Unified School District banned willful defiance suspensions for students in all grades several years ago, the new law now impacts certain grade levels at schools statewide.

California already prohibits suspensions for students up to the third grade. The new law extends a permanent ban to grades four and five. It temporarily restricts them for grades six through eight until 2025.

Democratic Sen. Nancy Skinner, who authored the bill, says state data shows students of color are more likely to be suspended for willful defiance than white students. She said ending willful defiance suspensions may be one of the best ways to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline, by keeping kids in school where teachers and counselors can help them.

While the new law doesn't exempt students from ever being suspended, it does aim to reduce the number of suspensions.

Phal Sok is a criminal justice reform advocate with the Youth Justice Coalition, which pulled its support because the bill didn't include high school students.

"Data showed that the greatest need was within high schools. As many people may say high school youth are rebellious. They're not rebellious. They're in need of support and that's something that we understand as people that have been impacted by these systems," Sok said.

The California Teachers Association said teachers agree that suspensions are not necessarily the most effective approach and should be used as a last resort, adding in part, educators believe districts must provide funding and resources to implement the program as well as alternative discipline programs.

The new law takes effect July 1, 2020.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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