Two bills pending before the California Legislature would bar school officials from suspending or expelling students who are drunk or high, or who engage in what’s known as “willful defiance” at school.
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The goal of Senate Bill 274 and Assembly Bill 599 is to further limit the reasons that students are kept out of school because of a suspension or expulsion.
AB 599, which next goes before the Appropriations Committee after being passed by the Education Committee, would bar schools from suspending or expelling students who use or possess illicit drugs or alcohol. The ban may also be extended to students using tobacco or other smoking products, now listed among the offenses that could result in suspension but unaddressed in AB 599.
Students who are caught selling booze or drugs would still be subject to suspension and expulsion under the bill.
If it becomes law, AB 599 would require the Department of Education to develop a model policy for a “public health” approach to addressing student use and possession of drugs and alcohol, and require local education agencies to adopt a plan by July 1, 2025 that would be “youth-informed” and include information as to where on campus and in the community students can get information, treatment, and support for substance use.
Also in School Zone:
- GO Public Schools Fresno focuses a forum on English language learners.
- Fresno Pacific president to be inaugurated.
- Fresno Compact awards recognizes supporters of improving local schools.
Meanwhile, “willful defiance” was already off the table as a disciplinary option for students in grades transitional kindergarten through grade 8. Senate Bill 419, signed into law in 2019, made the ban permanent for grades TK-5 and in effect until 2025 for grades 6-8.
Educators and policymakers pointed to data that showed such disciplinary actions were highly subjective and historically targeted Black male students, who could be suspended for disrupting a class but also for something like not removing a hat or hoodie in class.
SB 274, which is active and in the committee process, would permanently ban suspension and expulsion for willful defiance in all grades.
According to DataQuest, the California Department of Education’s web-based data reporting system, in 2020-21 the rate of suspensions for Fresno Unified’s Black students was 12.7%, more than double the district average of 5.9%. Out of more than 7,000 suspensions that year, 99 were due to defiance.
That year Black students also were expelled at a higher rate — 0.5% — than the district average of 0.2%. The bulk of the 125 expulsions were due to violent incidents, but 21 were related to illicit drugs. None were due to defiance.
More Support is Important
Manuel Bonilla, head of the Fresno Teachers Association, told School Zone he couldn’t speak specifically to either of the two bills. But he said that when legislators put more restrictions in place, that’s not the time for school districts to throw more burden on teachers and other school staffers.
Instead, Bonilla said, districts should be doing more to provide support structures for students and teachers to improve the learning community. Suspensions and expulsions, he said, “should not be the only tool in the toolbox.”
And before you think the Legislature is getting soft on school crime, consider this: The list of offenses that can get a student suspended or expelled still include bringing a weapon to school, hurting or threatening to hurt another person, stealing, robbing, damaging property, sexual assault, and cyber sexual bullying.
GO Fresno Sets Sights on English Language Learning
GO Public Schools Fresno is hosting an English language learner event for students, parents, educators, and community members. It follows a series of “data walks” and will mark the launch of the nonprofit organization’s ELL sign-on letter campaign.
Topics to be covered: What is the current ELL achievement data? What factors contribute to ELL student achievement? And what are the needs of ELLs in Fresno Unified?
Improving instruction and education for English language learners has been one of GO Public School Fresno’s goals. The nonprofit notes that while Fresno schools are reclassifying students in grades 2-4 at a faster rate than the state average, only about 50% will be reclassified, and one-quarter will leave high school still classified as English language learners.
Students who lack English language skills fall further behind as their classes become more advanced, which can affect their ability to get into college or start a good career. In addition, students who struggle with English may not be allowed to take electives, which help spur their interest in staying in school, so they can focus on learning English.
The forum will be from 10 a.m. to noon Thursday at the First Congregational (Big Red) Church at 2131 N. Van Ness Blvd. There will be simultaneous Spanish interpretation, food, and childcare provided.
To register, go to https://forms.gle/ydKZDrwFvNajLkxs9, or call (559) 284-0408.
Fresno Pacific Inaugurates President
Dr. André Stephens been on the job as Fresno Pacific’s president for nine months already, but on Friday the university will make it official.
Stephens will be inaugurated at Fresno Pacific’s 14th president at a ceremony starting at 10 a.m. and held in the Special Events Center on the main campus, 1717 S. Chestnut Ave.
The investiture pronouncement and prayer will be led by Joshua Wilson, J.D., chair of the Fresno Pacific board of trustees, and Jordan Ringhofer, M.A., trustee and minister of the Pacific District Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, with which the university is affiliated.
Special guests will include Shirley V. Hoogstra, president of Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, Barry H. Corey, president of Biola University, where Dr. Stephens previously worked, and Fresno deputy mayor Matthew Grundy.
After the formalities, the guests will gather for a picnic on the Campus Green, and later Friday — weather permitting — Dr. Stephens will throw out the first pitch as the Sunbirds take on Hawaii Pacific on the baseball diamond. As of Tuesday, Friday’s forecast calls for partly cloudy — but not rainy — skies and a high of 64 degrees.
Fresno Compact Education Honorees Named
You’ve probably heard the adage, “It takes a village to raise a child.” And to make sure that children have the best education opportunities possible, that village should include the business community.
The Fresno Compact, through its Business-Education Partnership Awards, is recognizing those professionals and businesses who have made it their priority to invest in local schools. Ten businesses and a school leader are being singled out for their efforts to improve schools and support the future of the community.
They are: Anthem, Actagro/Nutrien Ag Solutions, Barnes Welding, Cen Cal Sports, Estes Show Lambs, Fresno Police Department — Lt. Ignacio Ruiz, Jr., E&J Gallo Winery, Sanger Police Department — Commander Jason Boust, Lanna Coffee Company, and J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc.
In addition, Jared Savage, principal of Sanger Unified’s Fairmont Elementary School, will be recognized with the Dr. Harold Haak Award for his efforts to build connections between schools and businesses.
The award winners will be recognized at a luncheon on April 26 from 11: 30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Fresno Chaffee Zoo. To purchase tickets, call (559) 265-3010.
The Fresno Compact is a partnership of committed leaders from businesses, education, government, and the community who support education, workforce development, and economic growth in Fresno County.