(The Center Square) – California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill ending “willful defiance” suspensions in TK-12 public and charter schools, a move that experts say could bring disaster amid already declining academic performance, behavior, and attendance. Under SB 274, schools would have to offer “interventions or supports” instead.
Willful defiance is defined as “disrupting school activities or otherwise willfully defying the valid authority of school staff. Law author State Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, claims that willful defiance suspensions have been used to create a “‘School to Prison Pipeline,’ where youth expelled or suspended for minor offenses are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal legal systems.”
“The simple act of ending willful defiance suspensions for all public school children recognizes the unique developmental vulnerabilities of youth, especially youth of color and youth with disabilities, by creating a school environment where every child has the opportunity to learn, thrive and succeed,” wrote the Alliance of Boys and Men of Color in a letter supporting the bill.
However, education experts believe that this bill will only worsen an already deteriorating learning environment in the state’s public schools.
“This bill undercuts both teacher and administrative authority in the schools. It communicates to students condescendingly low expectations — that we cannot expect any kid to provide a basic level of respect for adults,” said education expert and Fordham Institute policy and editorial associate Daniel Buck to The Center Square. “All this is going to accomplish is sowing chaos, violence, bullying and other such disorder in schools.”
Under another Skinner bill adopted in 2019, willful defiance suspensions for transitional kindergarten – a new pre-kindergarten grade – through eighth grade were already banned, though charter schools were exempt from this provision. This new bill removes the exemption for charter schools and extends that ban through the entire primary and secondary non-private educational system in California.
“This is part and parcel of a complete annihilation of charter schools in California, or of any education freedom or opportunities for parents, especially for those who either can’t afford to send their children to private school or are not in a situation to be able to homeschool their kids,” said California Policy Center Vice President of Government Affairs Lance Christensen in an interview with The Center Square.
The bill was also sponsored by State Superintendent Tony Thurmond, who recently announced his campaign to replace Newsom as governor when he terms out of eligibility for re-election in 2027.