California’s ban on “willful defiance” suspensions justified

Willie Rounaghi, Editor-in-Chief/Managing Editor

On Sept. 9, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that prevents students (K-12) from being suspended from school for “willful defiance.” 

I strongly believe that it is beneficial that this vague justification for suspension is no longer available. If a student is disrupting a class, the teacher will not be able to just write them up a suspension, excluding them from their peers and forcing them to fall behind in school work; instead, administrators at each school are tasked with finding alternative ways to correct behavior in a more inclusive and positive way. Also, by keeping students at school, I believe students will have greater opportunity to integrate themselves into the school community and find a refuge from their troubles at home. 

In my opinion, isolating trouble-making students only exacerbates the issue for students who may already be struggling with truancy and may also be more susceptible to bias. According to a 2016 study by San Diego State and UCLA, “the statewide suspension rate” in California “for black males is 3.6 times greater than that of the statewide rate for all students.” 

In the same study, statistics of suspended students show that individuals who are in foster care, have low income, are homeless or disabled are suspended at a much higher rate than the average student, with students in the foster care system being suspended roughly five times more often than the statewide average. These numbers reveal a glaring problem in the previous suspension policy as students who were disadvantaged due to problems they couldn’t control, such as their troubled home life, disabilities or inadequate family support, were being sent away from possibly the only stable thing in their life: school. It is my belief that instilling a reliable base at school for students who are struggling will allow them to become more involved in the school culture and find belonging.

It is a positive sign that, according to Principal Dr. Jason Allemann, LBHS has not used the “willful defiance” justification to suspend a student in the last couple years. Because of this, the impact of the reform on us will not be as significant as in other districts. I still believe it is important that this disciplinary tool will be taken off the table completely nationwide.

To me, the changes in California law represent a changing attitude about the best ways to handle disciplinary issues. The same progression is seen at Laguna Beach. According to Assistant Principal Nikol King, the administration at LBHS works on continuously improving disciplinary practices to focus on the development of the maturing student body. With this approach, it is in the best interest for students to accept the progressive punishment as it seems that our school has our best interests at heart.

As LBHS expresses an emphasis in mentoring students, as opposed to disciplining them. Students here have the opportunity to learn from each situation and find constructive ways to navigate the challenges of high school. LBHS students facing family stresses, divorces, mental health and substance abuse issues are at greater risk of getting into trouble. As educators continue to shift to a more student-focused model, students who are struggling should take the opportunity to address their issues and get the help that they need.  The school cites many resources like Student Support Specialist Alex Aronson and the Student Resource Officer Corporal Cornelius Ashton for students who have problems at home or are just simply having a bad day.

Although the importance of discipline in school should not be dismissed, I believe that the ways in which administrators punish their students are rightfully being questioned and reformed in the new California bill. Students who disrupt class do not need to be separated from their peers. Instead, these students should be encouraged to find a home within the LBHS community.