New California Law Bans School Suspensions for Defiance

Earlier this week, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 419 into law, which extends the current K-3 ban for suspensions for “defiant and disruptive” behavior to grades 4-8. The law suggests that “restorative justice practices, trauma-informed practices, social and emotional learning, and schoolwide positive behavior interventions and support, may be used to help pupils gain critical social and emotional skills” as a way to right the wayward student. At least the Kumbaya statute doesn’t pertain to violence, robbery and other more serious offenses … yet.

Wrongness abounds here. First, the law excuses anti-social behavior with a kiss on the wrist. Defying your teacher with no real consequence will simply lead to more-of-same, with new disruptors encouraged to join the “Let’s give Mr. Chips the finger” club. And good kids will suffer as the disruptive ones eat up valuable class time with their antics.

The impetus behind the bill appears to be race-based. While black students made up 5.6 percent of the total enrollment in California for academic year 2017-18, they accounted for 15.6 percent of total suspensions for willful defiance, according to the state education department. Of course, it goes unmentioned that black kids actually commit a disproportionate amount of the suspense-worthy offenses. Black teachers get this. A recent Fordham Institute teacher survey, showed that they, more than white teachers, feel suspensions aren’t used enough.

But school discipline, you see, like so much in education, is subject to big government meddling, emotion and social justice fads, and all too often the extremists get their way. After the Columbine murders in 1999, “zero-tolerance” policies became the new national trend-du-jour. This overreactive lurch led to outrageous consequences – like a 7-year-old Maryland boy being suspended in 2013 for chewing his Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun and saying, “Bang, bang.”

Then, making a U-turn, President Obama and his Department of Education issued a “Dear Colleague Letter” on school discipline in 2014. The missive asserted that there was a racial component to school suspensions because blacks were far more likely to be suspended than other ethnic groups. The suggestion here, of course, is that white teachers and administrators, most of whom are white, tend to be racist. But the racial bean counters never get around to explaining why, according to one study, the racial disparity exists even in schools where black principals and staff predominate. Another study of suspension rates showed that having all-black rather than all-white teachers reduced the risk of being suspended by a mere two percentage points.

As The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley notes, the Obama administration sent school districts “guidance” letters that threatened federal action if black suspension rates weren’t reduced. “The letter stated that even if a school’s suspension policy ‘is neutral on its face—meaning that the policy itself does not mention race—and is administrated in an evenhanded manner,’ the district could still face a federal civil-rights investigation if the policy ‘has a disparate impact, i.e., a disproportionate and unjustified effect on students of a particular race.’”

Broward County, Florida’s school system led the nation in promoting and implementing this big-government policy shift, serving as the exemplarfor Obama’s guidance. Broward’s efforts to end the “schoolhouse-to-jailhouse pipeline” by reducing in-school arrests for drugs, assault, and weapons charges were celebrated by social-justice and criminal-reform advocates around the country. But as Manhattan Institute fellow Max Eden writes, it was precisely this preference for social justice over safety that allowed Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland shooter, to avoid arrest in Broward County, “despite years of criminal behavior on school grounds, and countless red flags regarding his unstable and psychopathic personality.”

So what should we do? First, as one who has seen many students suspended during my stint in middle school, I can tell you that in most cases the action is useless. After a suspension, I always asked the offending students how they spent their time when they were out of school. By far, the most prevalent response was a shrug, accompanied by, “Watched TV.” Hardly cruel and unusual punishment. A better solution would be to ditch suspensions and, instead, if kid breaks the school’s rules, make him come to school early or stay late, or possibly expose him to some lectures on Saturday morning. Perhaps then, flipping off the English teacher may lose some of its joyous luster. And importantly, any criminal student behavior should involve law enforcement.

But more than anything, the way forward must be local. Very local. Let each school – administration, teachers and parents – figure out how to handle behavior problems. A school district could help by setting down some loose guidelines. But the state and most definitely the feds need to stay far out of it. A dust up between a teen and a teacher in Idaho should not have to be subject to the whims of social justice warriors and government bureaucrats three time zones away.

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Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network– a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

This article was originally published by the California Policy Center.


  1. Great article.
    This is one of many reasons my children will not go to a CA public school.

    Whatever happened to detention within the school?

  2. As the number of private school students go up the per capita costs go down.

    As a former teacher and from a family of very successful teachers this is a disaster. It rewards those who have no interest in learning (for what ever reason), and are happy to disrupt classes and whole schools to make themselves bigger than life.

    This is the crash and burn rules of education.

  3. The disgusting behavior of public schools is getting more and more and deserves NO RESPECT and because of this attitude I am waiting for (the buck stops here) to happen and there will indeed be some big lawsuits against these schools. Making VERY BAD AMERICANS TO BE ASHAMED OF because of the LIB-LEFT.

  4. Their theory is that since minority kids (whatever that means now in CA) are “over represented” in the juvenile legal system, by not reporting or disciplining behavior this will help break the so-called “school to prison” cycle by keeping kids out of the disciplinary system altogether.

    All it really does it tell at-risk kids there are no limits on behavior. Having recently had a middle schooler face bullying I can tell you that:

    1. The bully is not held accountable. The school is more worried about an accusation of racism and of not having incidents impact their school rating and funding than maintaining safety in the school. The bully kid was not required to do counseling, was not punished, and immediately violated the “no contact” contract they signed.

    2. There is no accountability by the adult teachers in school. Aforementioned dropped f-bombs at teachers, parents and other kids — in front of the vice principle with no action taken.

    3. Schools swap problem kids to minimize the impact on their ratings — and to shuffle them off until they are no longer their concern. At one school in San Jose a trouble child set off a bomb that shredded a metal trash can and could have killed someone. Not only did the school try to pretend it was a “fire work” but they shuffled him off as fast as possible. Oh, while the kid yelled about his rights!!

    4. Good schools are only good because of good kids who were prepared by involved parents. My kid’s middle school had little to do with it — they enforced no standards of behavior or safety.

    5. We realized that the schools do *not* have your kids’ back — yes, there may be great teachers, but the School admin will always protect themselves first.

    All of this means that the schools all but ensure that at-risk and troubled kids will go to jail. By not setting and enforcing standards when they are young and more manageable, when there’s chance to correct behavior, they tell these kids there is are no limits and no consequences. And then they will turn 18 and be an “adult” legally, and that same behavior — punching someone, stealing something, etc., will land them in jail or worse.

    So as usual, the result of “progressive” policy will be completely opposite from their intent.

  5. Send your children to California schools and you condemn them.
    They will NOT get an education, but an indoctrination!
    Newsom and Brown are criminals and self serving politicians.
    It is all about the bottom line and the tax payer is the dupe that pays.
    Don’t send your kids to public school, home school is your best option. And, if you can’t do that then move.

  6. As I understand it, this “kiss the miscreant’s wrist” response to bad behavior has already been happening in CA public schools. This new law just sets it in stone.
    The sensible and obvious response is “why not simply set one standard for everyone’s behavior?” but no, crying racism is apparently much more fun than actually improving the situation.
    NO ONE is helped by these so-called “progressive” policies. The whole class suffers because of the out-of-control kid and when there are no consequences for the F.U. behavior the out-of-control kid is not helped either.

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