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Newsom bans ‘willful defiance suspensions’ in middle and high schools

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday signed a bill that will ban “willful defiance” suspensions for middle and high school students who demonstrate bad behavior, including breaking the dress code, talking back to a teacher or using their phone in class.

The legislation Newsom signed into law, SB 274, also will prohibit the suspension and expulsion of students due to tardiness or truancy. Educators can still suspend students for more severe actions, such as physical violence, possession or use of drugs, theft or bullying.

California already bans these suspensions permanently for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, and the new law expands the policy to middle and high schools.

Supporters of the bill say Black and Latino students are disproportionately affected by these suspensions. Research shows that these students are often the ones who suffer a reduced loss of learning and experience higher drop-out rates.

“Instead of kicking them out of school, we owe it to students to figure out what’s causing them to act out and help them fix it,” Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), author of the bill, said in July. “The punishment for missing school should not be to miss more school. Students, especially those with behavioral issues, need to be in school where teachers and counselors can help them succeed.”

There was little opposition to SB 274, with just a few Republican lawmakers voting against the bill in August.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown in 2012 vetoed a similar legislation, noting that teachers and school officials should be able to “retain discretion” to set the tone of their classroom.

“I cannot support limiting the authority of local school leaders, especially at a time when budget cuts have greatly increased class sizes and reduced the number of school personnel,” Brown said in 2012.

Over the last decade, the number of total suspensions for all offenses for students has dropped by 58%, according to California Department of Education data. The number of willful defiance suspensions dropped 94% over the same period.

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