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Suspensions: New Law in California, New York City to Change Discipline Code

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A couple of big changes have happened since my story on suspensions for broad offenses like "willful defiance" and "disobedience" was posted on our website last week.

Critics of such disciplinary infractions say they leave too much to the discretion of educators, who often apply them inconsistently between classrooms and sometimes among races. As a result, many districts have banned or limited suspensions for such offenses.

Over the weekend, California got a new law aimed at "willful defiance" and New York City leaders hinted at changes to come to the discipline code in that school system, where civil rights groups and student activists have been pushing an end to suspensions for "defying and disobeying authority." 

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill eliminating suspensions of kindergarten through 3rd grade students for "willful defiance" on Saturday. After some amendments during the legislative session, the new law allows suspensions for such offenses in older grades, but it removes the ability to expel students for willful defiance if they didn't also commit more severe infractions. This is notable because Brown previously vetoed a similar bill that would have eliminated such suspensions all together. Brown shared the criticisms of some who said such a move would rob resource-strapped schools of local control at a time when they might not be able to effectively implement replacement measures, such as restorative practices.

Similarly, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration confirmed planned changes to the city's conduct code in a New York Times article today. Though officials did not outline what changes they plan to make, the Times reports that the nation's largest school system "is examining the threshold for suspensions, and is likely to call for increased use of so-called restorative practices, like conflict resolution that involves bringing both sides together to discuss an incident rather than just meting out punishment."

"We've brought stakeholders together and consulted with them, we've looked at other school systems, and we've examined our own data and research—all of which we believe is a critical part of revising the school discipline code," Devora Kaye, an Education Department spokeswoman, told the Times. "We want these reforms to create a safe and supportive learning environment in every school, and are committed to both improving safety and reducing unnecessary suspensions. Our discipline code will reflect these goals."

But not everyone is on board for such changes. The Times says some fear code revisions could lead to a lack of order in schools. I've heard similar criticisms from commenters and Twitter followers who say that suspensions are occasionally necessary for teachers dealing with difficult students.

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