Last Updated on July 14, 2022 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995
One of the vaguest and most troublesome sections of the California Education Code for public school students is the portion which allows schools to suspend students for disruption or defiance. The problem with this is that the code can be (and is) applied to practically every type of behavior which brings extra work or difficulty to the school staff (what doesn’t?).
Parents need to know what is going on when they receive a call saying a student is being suspended for disruption or defiance.
Education Code 48900(k) Is a Nuisance
Under section 48900(k) of the Education Code, a student may be punished if they:
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.
This is the “catch-all” discipline section of the Education Code. The language is vague and overbroad, and schools often use it to punish conduct not covered by other suspension sections. It really gives school officials a green light to punish students, sometimes for the most minor infractions imaginable.
Disruption or Defiance Suspensions Can Only Be Imposed On High School Students
A few years ago, the California legislature amended Section 48900(k) to limit when schools may suspend students for disruption or defiance, likely due to rampant abuse of this section (applying to everything under the son, even wasting an administrator’s time).
Now, to be suspended under this section, a student must be in grades nine-twelve, in other words, a student must be in high school.
Dumb Suspensions Using Disruption or Defiance
Using section 48900(k), I have seen the most pitiful and minor actions receive suspensions. Luckily, due to the legal change, this happens less frequently now.
However, some of the silliest suspensions were for things like: a school administrator having to investigate something, or having to spend time explaining that a student’s conduct was wrong. How is this suspendable? Sometimes school personnel don’t use common sense.
I have also seen students punished for getting a drink of water during a physical education class. Apparently this was “defiant,” to take a drink in clear visibility of the teacher (who was across the field while the student was near a water fountain) without permission. Need I say more?
Another one which comes to mind: students have been punished for WATCHING a fight. Now, as far as I know, watching a fight is not punishable, even under this section. Needless to say school districts can sometimes stretch their authority to attempt to cover just standing there and looking!
Use of Disruption or Defiance to Suspend Varies by School
It really is up to each individual school how they apply this code. For example, one school may rarely have suspensions for disruption or defiance. Other schools may issue these hourly to students. It all depends on the school personnel in charge.
When parents are called about a suspension for disruption or defiance, logical arguments showing there was no disruption or willful defiance may fall on deaf ears. The next step is usually to follow the suspension appeal process (if there is one), and/or pursue some other form of potential remedy such as filing a records correction request after the fact.
Student discipline attorney Michelle Ball is located in Sacramento California. As an education lawyer, she may become involved in matters throughout California, including in Antelope, Merced, Downieville, Cameron Park, and many other locations.
Originally published August 9, 2011