Teachers remember their students, even the rambunctious ones. Sarah Canales can attest to that.
One day when she was substitute teaching, a young boy used profane language aimed at her in class, and she wrote him up.
Rather than suspending the student, administrators decided to take a different approach through the alternate placement program. Educators talk with students to understand the root cause of the behavior and give them the tools to get back on track and navigate through the day without having the issues or outbursts they've exhibited in the past.
Canales ended up working with the defiant student in the alternate placement program, and through conversations learned his emotional distress came from an unstable relationship with his mother. With time and effort, Canales said she "could see the lightbulb go off."
"Having that time with him, I think we had some really real moments," she said. "He still has his problems, his issues, but I think overall compared to when I first met him to where I see him now, I feel like there’s been a progression."
These changes are what the state hopes to see now that Senate Bill 419 bans public and charter schools from suspending students in fourth and fifth grades for "willful defiance," while it eliminates it for sixth through eighth grades for five years. A previous law banned schools from suspending defiant students from kindergarten through third grade.
The law takes effect July 1.
Willful defiance is behavior that “disrupted 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,” according to the law.
The hope is by keeping children in school rather than sending them home, they can work with teachers and counselors to improve their behaviors.
"I think everybody really feels like we need our kids in school to educate them, and suspension is not a great thing," said Fruitvale School District Superintendent Mary Westendorf. "If they can’t read, we’re not going to send them home and expect them to get better at reading. There are things we can do to help."
In recent years, local school districts have moved away from suspending students in those grades for defiant behavior and looked to different approaches that focus on getting to the root of why a child acts out.
Lucas Hogue, assistant superintendent of personnel for Greenfield Union School District, said his schools focus on educating students on what is appropriate behavior from an early age. If they deviate, rather than suspending them, "we’re having to get more creative on how to address behavior."
A main disciplinary approach includes Positive Behavior Interventions and Support, which defines standards for student behavior and positively reinforces the behavior. Students are shown how to interact with their teachers and peers in an effort to correct the defiant behavior. Other intervention methods work similarly.
The district's suspension rate show these approaches have results. In the 2017-18 school year, 67 students were suspended for willful defiance, Hogue said, compared to one this school year.
If the district sees a student is not improving through intervention, it pursues other assessments, such as determining whether the student suffers from a mental health issue, is in need of special education or counseling services, or if there are issues at home.
At Fruitvale School District, parent conferences, referrals to counselors or psychologists, a multi-tiered system of support and restorative justice programs, where specific behaviors are addressed, are all methods used to improve defiant behavior.
For students who were at high risk of being sent to APP, Canales said she would visit with them throughout the day and "try to get their day started in the right direction" as a type of preventive measure.
This new law doesn't come without its critics, however. Many parents might think there will be more disruptions in classrooms now that suspension is off the table or that little acts will be swept under the rug. But many agree sending children home will do little or no good.
"I do feel like teachers should have law and order, and those standards should be met at all times," parent Gaby Schmidt said. "I don’t think suspension would be favored. It’s not a solution, it’s just a small Band-Aid for the day."