The article written by Christina Hoang, reports about a bill that intends to change the traditional parameters regarding school suspensions. She also reports that discipline reform has taken place in California, specifically in East Los Angeles at Garfield High School.
The bill she refers to is one that Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, earlier this year introduced at the state capital. This bill, AB 2242 would remove willful defiance as a reason for suspension and expulsion and would replace that category with specific behaviors such as harassment, threats, intimidation, creating substantial disorder or a hostile environment.
School suspensions were once reserved for serious offenses including fighting and bringing weapons or drugs on campus. But these days they're just as likely for talking back to a teacher, cursing, walking into class late or even student eye rolling.
More than 40 percent of suspensions in California are for "willful defiance," or any behavior that disrupts class, and critics say it's a catchall that needs to be eliminated because it's overused for trivial offenses, disproportionately used against black and Latino boys and alienates the students who need most to stay in school.
"It's so broad it's not useful," said Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president and chief executive of the nonprofit South Los Angeles Community Coalition. "You can't quite define what it means, what it doesn't mean."
Willful defiance is coming under scrutiny as attention focuses on whether "zero tolerance" discipline policies instituted in many schools in the 1990s are working, especially for minority students.
A report by the U.S. Department of Education's civil rights office last fall found vast disparities in the use of suspensions and expulsions against students of color.
In California, defiance is a key reason behind high suspension rates, particularly for black and Latino students. A University of California Los Angeles report found students of color are most often suspended for infractions relating to disrespect, defiance and disobedience.
"There's a bit of profiling that goes on, particularly with low-income African-American and Latino boys," Harris-Dawson said. "A white girl can scream and slam books on the desk and not be seen as threatening, but a black boy can do half of that and it can be taken as `he's going to hit me."'
For teachers, sending troublemakers to the principal's office is a necessary tool to maintain classroom
discipline, said Frank Wells, Southern California representative of the California Teachers Association, who said he has not noticed an excessive use of defiance and the union has to remind teachers they can use that. But if statistics show a disproportionate use of defiance against certain groups of students, it could indicate a cultural gap. "It's something that should be studied," he said. "But we hate to limit teachers' authority to discipline."
South Los Angeles high school senior Brett Williams said he feels teachers use defiance as an excuse not to hear the students' side. "It's like sit down and shut up," the 18-year-old said. "You're not even able to tell your story. That to them is being defiant." A few weeks ago, Williams was not wearing his uniform shirt under a sweater after playing basketball. Told to go to the dean's office, he resisted because he was putting on his shirt and wanted to remain for the lesson. He was threatened with suspension for being defiant and sent home.
When he returned to school the next day, he had a run-in with the dean and was told he was disrespectful, rude and defiant and was sent home again. "It escalated into two days of missing school over a uniform shirt," said Williams, adding he's determined to graduate in June despite the problems. "You can't even be treated fairly so what's the point of going to school. That's the way they made me feel."
At Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, administrators started taking a different approach to discipline after seeing a record 600 suspensions in 2004.
The 2,700-student school now has a progressive discipline system where teachers and counselors intervene before a situation reaches the dean and principal. Parents are called and offenders ordered to write apology letters, apologize publicly, or spend lunchtime in the dean's office to realize the consequences of their behavior.
Defiance is no longer a cause for suspension.
"We took the suspension quick-trigger off the menu," said Assistant Principal Ramiro Rubalcaba, who used to have students in his office for everything from chewing gum to sleeping to coming to class without a pencil. "It was the big umbrella."
Teachers, who initially balked at the new disciplinary approach, are given extra training in classroom management if they report a lot of student behavior problems.
Last year, the school had only one suspension and has had only one so far this year. With that record, Garfield has become a model for discipline reform, and is now regularly visited by administrators from other high schools and even state lawmakers.
When seniors Jamie Rodriguez and Janaye Esparza got into a fight during drill team practice earlier this year - grounds for suspension at most high schools - their parents were called in, they were banned from the team for a week, spent lunch in the dean's office and were counseled on getting along.
"We learned to keep our distance and respect each other," Janaye said. "We ignore our differences."
Both girls said the toughest punishment was sitting out drill team. "That was hard," Jamie said. "It was something I really worked for."
Excerpts from: "EDUCATION: Bill would replace category with more specific behaviors" by Christina Hoang (The Associated Press)
In this Thursday, March 22, 2012 photo, Janaye Esparza, right, and, Jamie Rodriguez, both seniors, who had issues between each other that were resolved short of suspension, talk with Ramiro Rubalcaba, AP, at Garfield High School. (Reed Saxon / The Associated Press)