Our Stories

Los Angeles Schools End Suspensions for 'Willful Defiance' to Keep Students Learning

Can't view the slideshow? Click here to visit our Flickr page.

Los Angeles schools are leading the way to keep students in school and learning. The LAUSD school board has approved a School Climate Bill of Rights that will help schools reduce suspensions of students for minor behavioral issues, and implement alternatives that will support all students, improve school climate, and increase achievement.

The vote ends suspensions of students for "willful defiance," a provision of the state education code that accounts for nearly half of out of school suspensions statewide. Research shows that students who are suspended even once are five times as likely to fail to graduate than other students. 

As the board voted 5-2 to approve the changes, Manual Arts sophomore Damien Valentine asked for help to "get the tools to be on the path to graduation and college." The sophomore, who was the subject of a Los Angeles Times story, described how his first suspension drove a wedge between him and his teacher.

"I felt if I ever spoke in class, she would suspend me again. Living in fear of being suspended never helped me resolve any of my anger issues."

Schools that have used research-based alternatives to harsh discipline have seen student achievement rise. Teachers have reported greater JOB satisfaction at schools that have implemented "positive behavior intervention and supports," which LAUSD adopted in 2007 as a district-wide policy.

"The examples of successful transformation of school communities show us that it doesn’t cost any money to ask a student how they are doing, to understand why a disciplinary incident occurred and to show them that you care and want them to succeed," said Public Counsel Staff Attorney Ruth Cusick. "All of the students of LAUSD deserve to be treated this way."

The vote added momentum to Assembly Bill 420 now being considered in the California Legislature. The bill would end willful defiance suspensions of elementary school students and reinforce existing requirements to implement alternatives to suspension for older students. Click here to read more about AB 420 at FixSchoolDiscipline.org, a project of Public Counsel.

Hundreds of students who are part of the Brothers, Sons, Selves coalition rallied to show the negative impact of suspensions on schools, and particularly on students of color. In some schools, 50% of students suspended are African American.

"My story is not unique. African American students are 9% of LAUSD, but 26% of suspensions in the district," said Manual Arts student Valentine.

"All we need is for adults to change their attitudes and have faith that we can change our behavior and be on the path towards success."

About the School Climate Bill of Rights

  • Bans willful defiance suspensions that unfairly target young men of color.
  • Implements proven alternatives that support student achievement.
  • Clarifies the role of police on school campuses
  • Invests in the future vitality of LAUSD by increasing attendance, creating safer schools and supportive learning environments.


Click here to read the School Climate Bill of Rights (pdf)