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Bill would block expulsion for 'willful defiance'

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- The state Senate approved legislation Tuesday that would prevent California schools from expelling students for willfully defying school authorities, a punishment that activists say is unevenly applied and disproportionately affects minority students.

Current law gives school officials discretion to decide what constitutes willful defiance of a supervisor, teacher, administrator or other school employee. They can suspend students or recommend them for expulsion for such behavior.

The bill by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, removes the discretion and instead would divert disruptive students to in-school suspensions intended to help them. Schools still could expel students for violating school rules or laws and could suspend students for willful defiance of authorities in grades 4 through 12.

Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, said willful defiance is the most commonly used ground for suspension and expulsion of California students, and is often used for “vague and low-level offenses.” He said it also is ineffective, since students who are subjected to out-of-school discipline are five times more likely to drop out of school.

Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, one of several Republicans who voted against the change, said it removes another tool for teachers to manage their classrooms.

“We are taking discipline, diminishing it for our school administrators and our teachers,” he said. “Quite frankly, I believe we are making our classrooms more dangerous for our children.”

Supporters say school officials still retain the authority to decide when behavior merits removal from the classroom, and noted that the bill is supported by the California School Boards Association, the Parent Teacher Association and other education groups.

Senate approval of the measure comes the same day Los Angeles Unified School District officials plan to announce that students will be shielded from prosecution and sent to administrators for low-level offenses like possessing alcohol or marijuana on school property. Activists, educators and justice officials say the shift toward less harsh discipline in the nation's second largest school district will prevent students, especially minorities, from becoming mired in the criminal justice system.

The Los Angeles school board already has voted not to expel students for willful defiance.

The bill was approved on a 24-8 vote Tuesday and now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown.

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