In a committee room, student actors put on a 10-minute play called "Willful," in which a black high school student named Tom heads to the principal's office for yet another disciplinary action. His mother is sick, and his family has problems at home.
Tom expects a suspension. But this time, Principal Burton decides to send the student to counseling and urges him to seek similar help whenever he's feeling troubled.
That sympathetic response happens too rarely, according to the Black Parallel School Board and Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, among those who brought the play to the Capitol on Wednesday. Nearly half the 2,200 students suspended from California schools each day are punished for "willful defiance," according to state data.
The category can cover a wide range of unspecified behavioral problems, and critics say it gives schools too much leeway to justify disciplinary actions that fall disproportionately on minority students.
Dickinson, a Sacramento Democrat running for state Senate, has written Assembly 420 this year to curtail expulsions or suspensions on the basis of willful defiance. Black or brown students are much more likely than white students to be suspended, Dickinson said. "It's a question of civil rights."