More than half the students suspended from California schools get tossed for showing “willful defiance” to teachers or administrators, but last week the Los Angeles school board defied the conventional wisdom, so to speak, and voted to outlaw the practice.
The board voted 5-2 last week to have Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent John Deasy draw up a plan within four months to come up with an alternative to the zero-tolerance policy. The district is reportedly the first in the state to ban the banishments.
Supporters of the change argue that the “willful defiance” rule unfairly penalized minority students and facilitated a school-to-prison pipeline for them. While African-American students are 9% of the LAUSD student population, they receive 26% of the suspensions. They also cite studies which show that students who are suspended for non-serious offenses are more likely to drop out.
Supporters of the status quo include the only African-American member of the board, Marguerite LaMotte, who characterized the change as fostering a soft bigotry of low expectations.
The Los Angeles Times said she “lectured the students” at the board meeting that the rule change was going to hurt them. “I'm going to vote ‘no’ because it will give you the wrong message,” she said. “I'm not going to give you permission to go out and act crazy and think there are no consequences for your behavior.”
A frothier argument for not tolerating defiance in schools came in a Los Angeles Daily News op-ed by educator and author Paul D. White, who lamented that teachers were already “holding on by their fingertips on campuses that are imploding from racial unrest, gang activity, weapons, drug use, and a growing number of student assaults on teachers.”
He said the board made its decision in ignorance—none of the members who voted for the change have taught students—and out of avarice—to rake in a few more dollars from the state by having more kids in school.
An attempt to ban “willful defiance” suspensions and expulsions statewide passed the Legislature last year, but was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown. A new version, Assembly Bill 420, was introduced last month by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento), who, according the EdSource, touted a new, “long overdue” database recently cranked up by the state Department of Education.