Press Releases

September 27, 2014

California Enacts First-in-the-Nation Law to Eliminate Student Suspensions for Minor Misbehavior

SACRAMENTO, CA  – California became the first state in the nation to eliminate suspensions for its youngest children, and all expulsions for all students for minor misbehavior such as talking back, failing to have school materials and dress code violations. Gov. Jerry Brown’s signing on September 27, 2014, of AB 420 caps a landmark year for the movement away from harsh discipline policies and toward positive discipline and accountability approaches that keep children in school.

AB 420 places limits on the use of school discipline for the catch-all category known as “willful defiance,” which also includes minor school disruption. Willful defiance accounts for 43% of suspensions issued to California students, and is the suspension offense category with the most significant racial disparities.  For the next 3.5 years, the law eliminates in-school and out-of-school suspensions for children in grades K-3 for disruptive behavior currently captured in Education Code section 48900(k) and bans all expulsions for this reason. The bill was co-sponsored by Public Counsel, Children Now, Fight Crime Invest in Kids, and the ACLU of California and supported by a statewide coalition of organizations.

"In just a few short years, school discipline reform has become an important education policy priority in California because the stakes are very high – research has shown that even one suspension can make it five times more likely that a child will drop out of school and significantly increase the odds they will get in trouble and head into our juvenile delinquency system,” said Assm. Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento), author of AB 420 and a longtime champion of positive school discipline in California.

“AB 420 is a significant step forward in California’s school discipline reform movement and sends a clear message about the importance of creating calm, safe and successful learning environments where suspension is used only as a last resort," said Public Counsel Statewide Education Rights Director Laura Faer. "This statewide change is key to understanding what is needed to improve academic achievement, especially in our lowest performing schools.  Public Counsel will continue to push hard for further reforms at the state level to ensure that California is a leader in school discipline approaches that work for our most vulnerable students and students of color.  It is time we stopped leading the way in supporting unsound education remedies that remove students from schools to an unsupervised vacation or worse.”

The signing of AB 420 is the latest in a series of influential local and state reforms and milestones to reform harsh, disciplinary practices in California in 2014, including:

•    New agreements between school policing agencies and school districts to limit the filing of criminal charges and citations against students for minor infractions and instead refer them to counseling and other support services and put in place other protections.  These agreements are now in place in Los Angeles, Oakland, Pasadena, and San Francisco Unified School Districts.

•    Decisions by a growing number of school boards to go beyond AB 420 and ban the use of the catch-all category of “willful defiance” as a cause for suspensions and expulsions and instead rely on the other 24 more specific rationales for suspension spelled out in the California Education Code.  These policies have been adopted by San Francisco and Los Angeles (all grades, suspension and expulsion), Oakland (expulsion), and Azusa Unified School District (phased out over the next 3 years).

•    A first-in-the-nation decision by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing to require training in best practices in classroom management and positive school discipline for new school principals and administrators.

•    Significant investments in positive school discipline programs and strategies under the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula law that includes a new requirement that schools reduce suspensions and expulsions, develop specific strategies for doing so, and monitor data as a way of assessing “school climate” and the quality of the learning environment.  Highlights of reforms and investments include:
o    Santa Rosa City School’s Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) includes training for all middle and high school personnel staff on restorative practices and hiring 10 restorative practice specialists to address discipline issues and a goal of a 75% reduction in suspensions and expulsions for Latino students in 3 years.
o    Santa Ana Unified’s LCAP includes $4.5 million to support school and district operations to create welcoming and productive school environments and to conduct anti-bullying awareness, as well as $1.5 million to for School-wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports training, implementation of restorative justice strategies and instituting School Climate Oversight Committees at each school that include parents and students as co-facilitators.
o    Azusa Unified ’s LCAP includes the elimination of willful defiance suspensions over the next three years and implementation of SWPBIS in all schools by 2015-16 and tracking office discipline referrals.
o    Berkeley Unified’s LCAP includes a system to track and reduce office discipline referrals and fund restorative practices, SWPBIS and other alternatives at the classroom level.
•    A sharp decline in suspensions, with a 14.1% decrease in suspensions in the 2012-13 school year and a 27% drop in the last three years, according to California Department of Education data released in January.

Though this progress is significant and hopeful, California still suspended 329,142 students in the 2012-13 school year and issued more than 600,000 suspensions, with 43% being suspended for minor misbehavior and students of color being on the receiving end of significantly more harsh discipline.  In 2012-13, African-American students made up 6.3 percent of total enrollment, but 16.2 percent of suspensions.  Latino students made up 52.7 percent of total enrollment, but 54.6 percent of suspensions. White students made up 25.5 percent of total enrollment, but 20.9 percent of suspensions.

More reforms are needed in local and state policies, as well as monitoring the implementation of existing policies and programs.   AB 420 includes a sunset provision in 3.5 years, and statewide coalition partners will be returning with legislative proposals to expand the protections for students and increase investments in effective alternatives.  California’s coalition of state and local school discipline reform parents, educators, students, community, law enforcement, civil rights leaders will continue to work toward:

  • Ending the use of “willful defiance” suspensions for all students, not just young children
  • Increased state funding for positive school discipline approaches including Positive Behavior Intervention and Restorative Practices
  • Promoting best practices in schools, including reforms in teacher and administrator training,
  • Developing stronger Local Control Accountability Plans that include funding and training for alternative discipline practices
  • Reducing use of all suspensions for any reason by at least 80% by 2020

Click here to read statements from Californians in support of AB 420.