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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Early of Effects of the Removal of Willful Defiance From the Discipline Policy At Urban High Schools

  • Author(s): Lasnover, Sara
  • Advisor(s): Graham, Sandra H
  • Rose, Linda P
  • et al.

Nationwide, African-American students are being suspended at disproportionate rates. This is also true in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). In 2011-2012, while 9% of K-12 enrollment was African-American, 28% of the suspensions were given to African-American students. Of this 28%, 27.9% were categorized as "willful defiance," a very subjective, ambiguous, category. In an effort to decrease suspension rates overall as well as the disproportionate rate of suspensions of African-American students, the Board of Education of LAUSD chose to remove "willful defiance" as a reason for suspensions beginning the 2013-2014 school year. They were the first school district in the state of California to implement this policy.

The purpose of this study was to gain an early perspective as to what effects this removal would have on discipline practices at the high school level. Through analysis of existing District data, interviews of six high school principals, and questionnaire responses from 69 high school teachers, this concurrent mixed methods study explored suspension patterns before and after the change in policy, as well as the discipline beliefs and practices of principals and teachers.

Data show that although all six schools in the study had substantial rates of suspensions overall from 2009-2009 to 2013-2014, three of the schools saw an increase in rates of disproportionality of their African-American students. As well, the first year after the removal of "willful defiance," the schools saw an increase in the use of less subjective categories, Caused Physical Injury to Another Person and Willful Use of Force/Violence Not Self Defense. Principal interviews revealed that while some believe that students should only be removed from class for reasons of safety, others still feel that defiance and respect warrant removal. In the questionnaire, while more than 25% of the respondents indicated a lack of awareness of the policy change, 30% of the teachers admitted to continuing to refer students for suspension but using a different category. Finally, the study describes various implementations that may help to decrease the disproportionate rate of suspensions of African-American students.

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