Everything you ever wanted to know about AB 420 but were afaid to ask!

AB 420: Willful Defiance

 As you may recall, AB 420 amended Section 49800 of the Education Code by removing willful defiance, in certain instances, as a reason a principal may use to suspend or expel a student. That bill was to sunset on July 1, 2018, unless another statute was enacted to extend the date. This year’s Education Omnibus Trailer Bill removed the sunset date, making the change permanent.

The following are the pertinent sections of the Ed Code:

  1. A pupil shall not be suspended from school or recommended for expulsion, unless the superintendent of the school district or the principal of the school in which the pupil is enrolled determines that the pupil has committed an act as defined pursuant to any of [the] subdivisions [below,] (a) to (r), inclusive: …

(k) (1) Disrupted school activities or otherwise willfully defied the valid authority of supervisors, teachers, administrators, school officials or other school personnel engaged in the performance of their duties.

(k) (2) Except as provided in Section 48910, a pupil enrolled in kindergarten or any of grades 1 to 3, inclusive, shall not be suspended for any of the acts enumerated in this subdivision [(k)], and this subdivision shall not constitute grounds for a pupil enrolled in kindergarten or any of grades 1 to 12, inclusive, to be recommended for expulsion. This paragraph shall become inoperative on July 1, 2018, unless a later enacted statute that becomes operative before July 1, 2018, deletes or extends that date.

While Section (k) (1) regarding willful defiance was not removed from the Ed Code, Section (k) (2) made the following changes:

  1. Eliminated the ability of a principal to suspend a student from school in grades K-3 for disruptive behavior or willful defiance.
  1. Eliminated the ability of a principal to expel a student from school in any grade level for disruptive behavior or willful defiance.

With the words, “Except as provided in Section 48910,” Section (k) (2) maintains the ability of a teacher to suspend a student in any grade level from class for disruptive behavior and willful defiance for the day of the suspension and the following day, as per Ed Code Section 48910 below:

48910 (a) A teacher may suspend any pupil from class, for any of the acts enumerated in Section 48900, for the day of the suspension and the day following. The teacher shall immediately report the suspension to the principal of the school and send the pupil to the principal or the designee of the principal for appropriate action. If that action requires the continued presence of the pupil at the school site, the pupil shall be under appropriate supervision, as defined in policies and related regulations adopted by the governing board of the school district. As soon as possible, the teacher shall ask the parent or guardian of the pupil to attend a parent-teacher conference regarding the suspension. If practicable, a school counselor or a school psychologist may attend the conference. A school administrator shall attend the conference if the teacher or the parent or guardian so requests. The pupil shall not be returned to the class from which he or she was suspended, during the period of the suspension, without the concurrence of the teacher of the class and the principal.

(b) A pupil suspended from a class shall not be placed in another regular class during the period of suspension. However, if the pupil is assigned to more than one class per day this subdivision shall apply only to other regular classes scheduled at the same time as the class from which the pupil was suspended.

(c) A teacher may also refer a pupil, for any of the acts enumerated in Section 48900, to the principal or the designee of the principal for consideration of a suspension from the school. (Amended by Stats. 2004, Ch. 895, Sec. 10. Effective January 1, 2005.)

The law does not prohibit students from being suspended or expelled. The limitations of Section (k) relate only to disrupting school activities and/or willful defiance. The multiple other reasons that allow a pupil to be suspended – such as possession of firearms, threatening to cause physical harm to another person, robbery and other serious matters – remain intact.

However, the right to suspend or expel is not unlimited. Section 48900.5 requires that other means of correction be used for a first offense, except when a student, including a special needs student, causes physical injury; possesses a firearm or other dangerous object; possesses, uses or is under the influence of a controlled substance; or commits or attempts to commit robbery or extortion; or if a student’s presence causes a danger to persons. In such cases, a student may be suspended on the first offense.

Other reasons for suspending or recommending expulsion include sexual harassment, hate violence, and harassment. Section 48900.4 states that students in grades 4 – 12 may be suspended or recommended for expulsion if the principal or superintendent “determines that the pupil has intentionally engaged in harassment, threats, or intimidation, directed against school district personnel or pupils, that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to have the actual and reasonably expected effect of materially disrupting classwork, creating substantial disorder, and invading the rights of either school personnel or pupils by creating an intimidating or hostile educational environment.” Making terrorist threats against school officials or property, or both, is another reason for suspension or recommended expulsion.

Special Education

Students receiving special education services are subject to the same suspension rules as students who are not receiving such services, except that suspensions of students receiving special education services cannot exceed ten days without an IEP “manifestation determination” meeting (20 U.S.C. Sec. 1415(k)(1)(B)), which is a formal procedure used to determine if a student’s behavioral issue was an expression of that student’s disability. In other words: Did the disability cause the behavior? State law defers to federal law for most rules governing suspension and expulsion of students receiving special education services (CA Education Code Sec. 48915.5).

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