The Los Angeles Unified School District will stop using “willful defiance” as a justification for suspension, a sweeping change that eliminates the broad category as an option for teachers and administrators.
The school board voted 5-2 to end the practice in large part due to concerns raised that the punishments disproportionately affected black and Latino students and disrupted their education. The change was part of a “School Climate Bill of Rights” adopted by the board. The change comes as school districts across the nation feel more pressure to avoid removing children from classroom instruction. In many districts, “zero tolerance” is giving way to positive behavior reinforcement strategies.
Defiance could range from swearing at teachers to not complying with a teacher’s orders. The Wall Street Journal reports that in 2011-12, willful defiance accounted for nearly half of the suspensions in California schools and about 30 percent of Los Angeles’ out-of-school suspensions.
The Center on Public Integrity has reported on other criticisms related to the ticketing and arrests of students. The group reported that L.A. board president Monica Garcia said she sponsored the “bill of rights” because the suspensions were not helping academic achievement. “What I expect to happen now is more graduation in Los Angeles,” Garcia told the center. She said she wants to stop the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
A study released last August by The Civil Rights Project at UCLA examining nearly 7,000 school districts found that about 7 percent of Latino students received out-of-school suspensions at least once during the 2009-10 school year, in addition to 17 percent of black students and 5 percent of white students. The group warned that suspending students places them at higher risk of dropping out or ending up in the juvenile justice system. Suspension rates varied by geographic region, however.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the vote drew a large crowd.
“Now we’ll have a better chance to stay in school and become something,” Luis Quintero, 14, told the Times.
NPR visited with Jose Huerta, principal of the predominantly Latino Garfield High School in Los Angeles. He strongly supports eliminating suspensions and feels that not using them has helped the school’s graduation rate. “Suspensions are off the table at Garfield High School,” he told NPR. “I can’t teach a kid if he’s not in school.”