By Kacie Williams
SACRAMENTO, CA – California Attorney General Rob Bonta filed an amicus brief last week in the Natomas Unified School District v. Sacramento County Board of Education, urging an appellate court to overturn what the brief called the unlawful expulsion of an elementary school student.
Bonta’s brief argues California law states students have a constitutional right to education and only students who “pose the greatest threat to safety” will undergo mandatory expulsion. And school districts must follow proper legal procedures before deciding to expel a student.
Students who have discipline issues should have their behaviors corrected without having their educational rights stripped of them, so long as it can be done in a way that is also safe for other students. In the case at hand, the school district failed to follow California’s standards for school discipline, AG Bonta said.
“Every child in California has the right to go to school and get an education,” said Bonta, adding expulsion should only be used as the absolute last resort, not a measure that we default to. Removing children from school can have strong lasting effects and consequences on that student.
In 2019, the Natomas Unified School District had a student who brought “unloaded, orange-tipped airsoft guns and a sealed bag of white plastic pellets” to school.
While the behavior of this student was concerning, the Natomas Unified School district disregarded the legal process necessary to follow before expelling a student, claims Bonta’s amicus brief.
The California Legislature later enacted a detailed statutory framework to govern student discipline, which entails non-punitive classroom discipline that has been shown to be more effective and efficient than suspension or expulsion.
It was also found that suspensions and expulsions disproportionately affected students of color, students with disabilities, LGBT students and other vulnerable student populations.
Moving forward under new law, expulsions must only be carried out after providing students to be able to form a defense for their actions.
Bonta’s brief notes the school district did not follow the law and the Sacramento County Board of Education then reversed the order. The case is currently on appeal before the California Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District.
The amicus brief charges disruption of school activities is not a reason for expulsion, and before expulsion a school district must provide supported findings and afford students the process set out in the Education Code, among a few other items.
AG Bonta also said, “I urge the appellate court to protect the rights of all of California’s students and erase this unlawful expulsion from the record.”