Senate Bill 607 seeks to eliminate “willful defiance” as a justification for the suspension and expulsion of students in grades K-12, effectively making it illegal for a teacher to discipline a student for such behavior in the classroom.
The current rule outlines this “willful defiance” as the disruption of “school activities or otherwise willfully defied the valid authority of supervisors, teachers, administrators, school officials, or other school personnel engaged in the performance of their duties.”
SB 607 aims to add more time to a July 1 deadline, and Section 2 makes it illegal for a teacher to suspend a willfully defiant student from class. Due to Section 2, there are alternative methods of discipline, including Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports. However, those strategies take time, and while the student is involved in those strategies, the student is still allowed to come to class.
Certain acts of willful defiance must be dealt with quickly. For example, as an instructor, I have asked students to put away their cell phones while class is in session, and they simply refuse. When I ask for the cell phone to give to the Dean of Students, since it defies the class rule of “no cell phones,” the student says, “F--- you! I don’t gotta do a god damn thing you say!”
What are we to do? As a teacher, I only have 57 minutes of instruction to teach information that students need. However, dealing with willful defiance from a student or students eats into that very valuable time.
School administrators and teachers have their hands tied. I have consulted with parents, other teachers, counselors, intervention specialists, case managers, and the Dean of Students. Going through those channels can be confusing (and bureaucratic) at times for teachers. I have written many referrals of uncontrollable student behavior, only to be confronted more than a week later by the student about it, with nothing more than a conference and a piece of paper.
We are expected to administer discipline, but we are also being forced to tolerate blatant disregard of school rules for things that used to be zero tolerance offenses: disrespect to teachers and staff, drugs, fighting … the list goes on. While suspensions and expulsions should not be the first answer to classroom issues, they should not be left out of the discussion as viable consequences for poor classroom behavior, or defiance of classroom rules.
What if a school instituted a “no cell phone” policy that is upheld in every classroom, not just in some? What if the next time a student uses vulgar language in the classroom, in the hallways, or anywhere on campus, it gets addressed with a parent by a teacher and/or administration? Speaking of parents, what if that school instituted a mandatory Parent Day, where students are accompanied to class by their parents or guardians and are invited to stay? What if a school implemented cameras in classrooms, to hold both students and faculty accountable for discipline issues?
What if a school invested in more counselors and more on-site therapists (instead of more guns) on campus? What if all of these strategies don’t work for a student? Could the idea of suspension and/or expulsion be seen as the final consequence for a problematic student?
We must have a clear standard of what is and is not to be tolerated in our schools, rule-breaking or rule-abiding, and that standard needs to be spread into the elementary schools, to the junior highs, to the high schools, with clear consequences. Consequences for defiance, willful or otherwise, need to be introduced, upheld, and enforced, so they can be honed and respected during adolescence.
If not, then we must be willing to accept that students who are defiant, with zero consequences, are going to continue the ideology that disrespecting authority with profanity, violence, and threats, with absolutely no recourse for the teacher, is a perfectly acceptable behavioral practice.
Is this the kind of world we wish wish to live in? Are we, as a society and a community, promoting the continuation of this willful defiance with no accountability? Lest we forget, discipline begins in the home. It needs to practiced in the classroom as well.
Sergio Espain is an English/journalism teacher at Bakersfield High School. The opinions expressed are his own.