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Legal Update: Changes in Student Discipline Law for Willful Defiance

A bill restricting the ability of school administrators to suspend or expel students for willful defiance (AB 420) was signed into law on September 28, 2014 by Governor Jerry Brown. It will take effect January 1, 2015.

Under the new law, student in grades K-12 cannot be expelled on the basis of willful defiance or disruption of school activities.  Typically, when students are recommended for expulsion, willful defiance or disruption of school activities is only one of many grounds for the proposed expulsion.  Therefore, elimination of this one basis for expulsion should not impede school districts from expelling students who present a danger on campus as a practical matter.

Additionally, school administrators are prohibited from suspending students in grades Kindergarten-3 for willful defiance or disruption of school activities.  The right of teachers to send students to the office for willful defiance remains intact. AB 420 does not amend Ed Code Section 48910, the section permitting student suspensions from class by teachers for any of the acts enumerated in Ed Code Section 48900, including willful defiance.

The new law represents a significant compromise on this topic as prior versions of the bill had greater restrictions, with one of the original versions calling for “willful defiance” to be deleted from the Education Code’s student discipline laws.

The limitations provided for by AB 420 will sunset on July 1, 2018, unless a subsequent statute extends or deletes that expiration date.

Districts should revise their Board Policies and Administrative Regulations for student discipline to reflect these changes, and train administrators on the new restrictions.

If you have any questions about these changes or how the amended statute will affect student disciplinary practices, please contact Mary Hernandez or Leah Smith.