Alternatives to Zero Tolerance Discipline Pass in California

Several bills which target zero tolerance disciplinary policies in California schools have passed the legislative hurdle. According to the SI&A Cabinet Report, the chief aim of the new proposals is to give schools flexibility to develop ways to deal with rule-breakers.

The focus on zero tolerance disciplinary policies is a result of the release earlier this year of a report that found that not only do California schools have the highest rates of suspensions and expulsions in the country, but also that harsh disciplinary measures are disproportionally doled out to minority students.

After an amendment last week did away with the requirement that schools which suspend or expel a high percentage of their students develop a new disciplinary approach that reduces the number of students being sent home from school for misbehavior, SB 1235 has now been approved by the legislature and is awaiting the signature of Governor Jerry Brown. Taking the place of the mandate to change the disciplinary approach is a “suggestion” that schools with suspension rates of 25% or more do away with zero tolerance policies in favor of an evidence-based alternative.

In order to comply with the conditions set out by SB 1235, the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the California Department of Education should provide assistance to the school staff to develop and implement these new strategies based on one of the two options outlined in the bill:

·       Option 1 – Use positive behavior intervention and support that focuses on setting specific behavioral expectations for students that reflect desirable behavior. When students uphold these positive behavioral expectations, they are rewarded and the positive habits are reinforced through school-wide systems. It is a proactive approach that involves the whole school community and seeks to prevent misbehavior by rewarding and recognizing desired student behavior. Numerous studies and reports verify and highlight the effectiveness of positive programs at improving school climate and leading to greater student success.
·       Option 2 – other evidence-based school-wide strategies to improve school climate. This bill also authorizes schools to use other school-wide strategies, such as a restorative justice program, in order to create positive learning environments.

Keeping SB 1235 company on the governor’s desk is another discipline-related measure — AB 2242, proposed by Assemblyman Roger Dickenson of Sacramento, a bill that would prohibit schools from assigning extended suspensions or expulsions to students who defy school authorities. The current law allows for such punishment if other conditions, such as threatening physical harm to school staff or other students or being under the influence of controlled substances or alcohol, are also met.