Schools In L.A. Ban “Willful Defiance” Suspensions

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Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) made headlines this week by prohibiting schools from suspending students for “willful defiance.”

If you aren’t following every twist and turn of the debate in Calif. over school discipline, you might be thinking, what’s the big deal? After all, we’re talking about one tiny line-item in the CA education code.

Let’s break it down.

If a teacher or administrator wants to suspend a student from school, they need to cite a reason for the suspension, such as “Attempting to steal school property,” or “Possession of a firearm.” (For a full list,see here.)

Somewhere in the middle of the list is this: “Disruption of school activities or willfully defying the authority of school personnel.”

Here’s the problem: that’s vague. Defying authority could be anything from simply talking back to a teacher, walking out of class, or refusing to sit in your assigned seat.

Over the years, the number of suspensions that cite this reason has increased dramatically with the rise of zero-tolerance discipline policies at schools.

In 2011 – 2012, Calif. schools doled out 700,000 suspensions — and 48% of them were for willful defiance.

What’s also controversial is the demographic breakdown of who’s punished for willful defiance. For example, last year in Calif., 55% of willful defiance suspensions went to Hispanic or Latino students, and 78% of willful defiance suspensions went to socioeconomically disadvantaged students (numbers are not exclusive).

In LAUSD, there were approximately 700,000 students enrolled last year, and 18,888 were suspended. Thirty-one percent of those suspensions cited willful defiance.

NPR reports that pioneer high schools in LAUSD like Garfield High, banned suspensions completely over the past couple years, and have seen increases in attendance and rates of graduation. However, NPR also reports that some teachers and administrators are worried about the change, saying that without suspensions, they don’t have enough tools to handle discipline, especially when the schools are short-staffed.

The willful defiance ban may be implemented at the state level soon.

What do students think about harsh punishments for what they consider minor misbehavior? Check out Youth Radio’s video series Detention Chronicles to find out…! 

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