California bill eliminates requirement for schools to report students' threatening behavior to police

High school, classroom, California
IT Support Technician Michael Hakopian (R) distributes computer devices to students at Hollywood High School on August 13, 2020, in Hollywood, California. With over 734,000 enrolled students, the Los Angeles Unified School District is the largest public school system in California and the 2nd largest public school district in the United States. |

A bill passed by the California state Senate lifts requirements for schools to report certain students' behaviors to the police, an action the legislation's sponsor says will reduce the criminalization of K-12 students, while some argue the bill could compromise students' safety. 

"Under existing California statutes, educators are mandated to report a broad range of student behavior to law enforcement, including things as minor as possession of cannabis or alcohol," the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, said

"Teachers and other school personnel are denied the discretion to decide how to handle various kinds of behavior based on the specifics of the particular incident. The result is unnecessary student contact with law enforcement, leaving students less likely to graduate high school and more likely to wind up in jail or prison," he added about the bill that passed on May 26. 

Bradford's office did not immediately respond to The Christian Post's request for comment.

Senate Bill 1273 eliminates a previous requirement that school administrators report drug and alcohol-related incidents, leaving the response to substances on campus up to educators. 

The bill also exempts students from a provision that states any person who "willfully disturbs" a public school or school meeting is guilty of a misdemeanor and is subject to a fine of up to $500. Bradford claimed that this law "led to the arrest of a student for an offense as simple as knocking on classroom doors when class is in session."

The legislation retains a provision mandating that teachers report students to law enforcement if the pupil is in possession of a firearm, discharges a firearm in a school zone, or brings a certain type of weapon to school. Certain weapons, however, were removed from the mandatory reporting requirement, such as airsoft guns, box cutters and razor blades.

Under the bill, requirements for reporting students to law enforcement before or after an expulsion or suspension for certain incidents are also eliminated. 

The bill also repealed provisions detailing the school's response to a student who behaves in a verbally or physically threatening manner. Instead, educators will now choose whether to report the student to the police. 

A previous provision required any employee of a school district or county superintendent of schools attacked or threatened by a student or with knowledge of such an incident to report it to the authorities. Failure to make a report was considered an infraction punishable by a fine of up to $1,000. Any act intended to inhibit the filing of a report could result in a fine ranging from $500 to $1,000. 

Bradford and the bill's sponsors felt this provision mandated that schools report even minor behavior considered physically or verbally threatening to the police.

The American Civil Liberties Union, a co-sponsor of the legislation, alleged that even "minimal" contact with law enforcement is harmful to young people, stating they are less likely to graduate school and are more likely to end up in jail or prison. 

"These harms fall disproportionately on students from marginalized groups: Black, Indigenous, and Latinx students, as well as students with disabilities, are disproportionately referred to law enforcement, cited and arrested," the ACLU wrote in a statement after the bill passed. 

"As many California educators seek to support students by responding to behavioral issues with needed services, regressive '90s era 'tough on crime' laws that reach beyond federal requirements remain in place that legally mandate school officials to notify law enforcement of a broad range of behaviors including possession of a controlled substance or alcohol," the advocacy group continued. 

The California State Sheriffs Association (CSSA) argued in a statement opposing the bill that removing requirements for educators to report unlawful behaviors interferes with student safety and prevents successful collaboration between schools and law enforcement. 

"School officials and law enforcement should work collaboratively, especially when it comes to students whose behavior violates the law and jeopardizes school safety," the CSSA stated. "Removing requirements that information about these incidents be shared with law enforcement runs counter to that notion and impedes law enforcement from being able to best protect our schools." 

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