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8 School Discipline Bills Move Ahead With Broad Support

Eight bills to fix school discipline are moving ahead in the California Legislature, with the final votes coming just hours before the July 4 holiday.

If given final approval by the Legislature and signed by the Governor, the bills will lead to positive discipline accountability alternatives for students in schools with the most out-of-school suspensions, better data for communities and policy makers working to keep students on track to graduate, and a much-needed change to “willful defiance,” one of more than 24 school removal categories that accounts for more than 40% of all school suspensions and as much as 12% of all expulsions.

They will also change the experience of students like Keidra Johnson, who drove six hours from Los Angeles to participate in Sacramento hearings. Johnson commuted to a high school miles away from her home in South Central Los Angeles but started falling behind. Without positive support to help her, eventually she was forced out. “I went to a better school in another neighborhood, but it actually turned out to be the same thing,” she said

She enrolled at Free L.A. High School, which works with students who have been pushed out of other schools. “At my new school, teachers are always there and they push us to stay in school. They actually call you when you’re not there.”  In addition, Free L.A. High School implements restorative justice to hold students struggling with emotional and behavioral issues accountable and teach them another way to relate to their peers and adults.  This alternative strategy has been shown to reduce suspensions by as much as 80% and help students who were falling behind move forward in their studies.

Unless you ask, “you never know what’s going on with someone outside of school, what’s going on in their lives,” Johnson said.

The votes in Senate and Assembly committees capped months of action from parents, students, educators, school board members, law enforcement and civil rights groups. Legislators have logged hundreds of phone calls and letters from Californians concerned about the problems with harsh and inconsistently applied school discipline rules.

Click here to see a list of many of the partner groups who have participated in this effort.