Tuesday, August 9, 2011

California School Suspensions for Disruption or Defiance- An Everyday Occurrence

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

One of the vaguest and most troublesome sections of the California Education Code for public school students is the portion which allows schools to suspend, or even expel, students for disruption or defiance.  The problem with this is that the code can be (and is) applied to practically every type of behavior which brings extra work or difficulty to the school staff (what doesn't?).  Parents need to know what is going on when they receive a call saying their child is being suspended for disruption or defiance.

Under section 48900(k) of the Education Code, a child may be punished if they:

Disrupted school activities or otherwise willfully defied the valid authority of supervisors, teachers, administrators, school officials, or other school personnel engaged in the performance of their duties.

Now, isn't that clear?

This is the "catch-all" discipline section of the Education Code.  It catches almost all of student conduct which a school wants to punish not covered by other code sections.  It really gives school officials a green light to punish, sometimes for the most minor infractions imaginable.

For example, I have seen students suspended when an investigation had to be conducted by administrators.  Now, the students were not punished for the "something" someone allegedly did, but because administrators were bothered and had to do an "unusual" activity- conduct an investigation.  Well, if that were the standard, there should be non-stop suspensions as when aren't administrators bothered by students on an hourly basis? And, isn't conducting investigations part of what administrators do?  Why punish the students for something predictable like investigating an alleged situation?  This should not be a basis for suspension.

I have also seen students punished for getting a drink of water during their physical education class.  Apparently this was "defiant," to take a drink in clear visibility of the teacher (who was across the field while the student was near a water fountain) without permission.  Need I say more?

Another one which comes to mind:  students have been punished for WATCHING a fight.  Now, as far as I know, watching a fight is not punishable, even under THIS section, but needless to say Districts can sometimes stretch their authority to attempt to cover just standing there and looking!

Now of course, it really is up to each individual school as far as HOW they apply this code.  For example, one school may rarely have suspensions for disruption or defiance.  Others issue these hourly.  It all depends on the personnel in charge.

When you are called in to be told your son or daughter is being suspended from a California public school for disruption or defiance, know that often your logical arguments showing there was no disruption or willful defiance may fall on deaf ears.  The next step is usually to follow the suspension appeal process (if there is one), and/or pursue some other form of potential remedy such as filing a records correction request after the fact.

Best of luck out there.


Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: 916-444-9064
Fax: 916-444-1209
Website: http://www.edlaw4students.com/

Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page [http://edlaw4students.blogspot.com/]. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting, etc. etc.!  This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship.

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