On January 1, 2013, California Education Code §48900.5 improved when language describing specific "other means of correction" which must precede certain suspensions expanded. But was this a "real" improvement or just smoke and mirrors? Both.
When I reviewed the legislative changes initially, I was excited. However, when I delved into what the nuts and bolts were of the changes to Education Code §48900.5, the excitement faded. Section 48900.5 appears to limit when schools can impose suspensions on students for certain offenses. But, as school discretion remains to suspend students who may be dangerous, even on a first offense, §48900.5 remains weak for students.
Frankly, schools perceive and justify almost ALL actions by students as "dangerous," in some way or another and so will try to skirt §48900.5. If you don't believe me, check the recent stories about students being in trouble for having a gun made out of paper, being punished for wearing t-shirts with the American Flag on them on Cinco de Mayo, or my own war stories of a student being kept out of school when saying "get her" on line, or expelled for forming their fingers into a "gun." These are not fiction.
I hope that schools will take to heart the INTENT of the legislature in truly applying "other means of correction" prior to suspensions, such as:
-- Study teams
-- Guidance teams
-- Programs teaching pro-social behavior
-- Parent teacher conferences
-- Referral to a school counselor
-- After school program on positive behavior.
-- Other alternatives to suspension.
The legislature clearly intended for schools to cut down on suspensions and to focus first on alternatives to suspension. However, as discretion was left with schools for "dangerous" students and students fitting certain violation categories (threats, drugs, fights, etc.), the changes may ring hollow. For, if schools interpret ALL, or most, student activity which leads to suspension as "dangerous," it will be as if §48900.5 did not exist.
Regardless, parents should read this code and be familiar with it to push for alternatives to suspension. Suspensions can impact a student's ability to get into certain colleges, and can cut down on that student's reputation and self-esteem. Too many suspensions and youths can give up on the school system altogether, and who could blame them? Demand that your school impose alternatives to suspension pursuant to §48900.5 while attacking specious claims of "dangerousness," and our public schools may just change for the better.
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814