Governor bans willful defiance suspensions: MCSD looks towards new options

Local News

MERCED, California (KSEE) – School districts up and down California will soon no longer be able to suspend students K-8 for willful defiance.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 419 making it illegal for both public and charter schools to suspend disruptive students starting July 2020. Merced City School District has prepared for that change introducing the Behavior Integration Center, or BIC, as an alternative to suspensions.

Teacher Edwin Miramontes stood at the front of the classroom as he picked a lesson for his handful of students.

“If I do this,” said Miramontes. “Then this will happen.”

His students chose the consequences lesson.

“For the last section, I want you guys to think, is it worth it?” asked Miramontes as he looked into his student’s eyes.

The program has been in place for a year. Since then, over 270 students have been sent to BIC as a consequence of actions of willful defiance, fighting, or bringing drugs or weapons to school.

Acts of willful defiance include not removing a hat or hood, or constantly clicking a pen on a desk after being asked to stop.

Behavior Analyst Lizbeth Duran said often teachers can feel like they have run out of options to help a student, especially when they do not have any more options left.

“Every teacher wants their kids to learn,” said Duran. ” That is the goal and I think that is where a lot of the frustration comes in. Because the teachers lose all of their tools.”

In the 2011-2012 school year, over 330,000 California students were issued willful defiance suspensions. Over the years, willful defiance suspensions have drastically decreased. In the 2017-2018 school year, there were less than 60,000.

“That was one that was up and down the state used far too often,” said Assistant Superintendent of Merced Schools Brian Meisenheimer.

However, suspension rates for children of color remain disproportionate.

According to the study, Get out! Black Male Suspensions in California Public Schools, the statewide suspension rate for black males is 3.6 times greater than the statewide rate for all students. It is not just for suspensions, 63% of students sent through Merced’s BIC program were Hispanic and 19% were African American.

“I think there needs to be a deeper conversation about that because we recognize that too in our district our district,” said Meisenheimer.

“We have made concerted efforts to engage people on why that may be happening. To look for school districts are having success with those particular subgroups and what can we do to support not only them but to the family.”

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