Can a Union Do Anything About Student Behavior?

Classroom educators everywhere are painfully aware of the recent increase in student behavior issues and the difficulty in addressing them through classroom management and disciplinary policies. There is no simple solution to this national crisis, but we believe that classroom teachers and support staff should be respected and empowered to create a safe learning environment for their students. ACE is calling for admin to take immediate action to provide relief to Clovis classrooms and teachers. In this newsletter, we identify two steps admin can take and also share what action we can take as educators to address student behavior even when admin doesn’t do their part.

Raising the Concern of Student Behavior with the Executive Cabinet

On Friday, February 23rd, the ACE Executive Cabinet Team met with the CUSD Executive Cabinet and raised the issue of student behavior as an urgent and desperate concern that we have experienced ourselves and have heard about from educators throughout the district. We acknowledged that this is a thorny, complicated issue, asked for admin’s perspective, and offered to collaborate on a solution.

We made two requests: One, cooperate with us sending information out to all classroom teachers to inform them of their  right to suspend a student from their classroom if needed; and two, to work with classroom teachers and support staff to provide a healthier return back into the classroom after a referral or suspension by providing a substitute or by admin covering the class and allowing the teacher to meet with the student and parents and support staff prior to the student returning to class. 

The district was silent after we made these two requests and then asked that we put them in writing to send to the appropriate district admin personnel. We have done so and will share their response.

What rights do we have under the law?

Student behavior and classroom management have been issues across California and are not unique to Clovis. What is unique in Clovis is a lack of support for educators through a strong, independent union and a union contract to both provide the bargained solutions and to protect classroom teachers when they need to stand up for themselves and their students.

We believe that one of the first advantages of a strong, independent union is the knowledge we can gain when we’re not relying solely on admin for information. In that spirit, we are sharing information that may be helpful to Clovis educators regarding our rights and duties as certificated educators. 

ACE/CTA members are able to attend CTA or NEA trainings and conferences and can consult with an attorney who is an expert in Ed Code and Labor Law. If you would like to know more or would like support for a specific issue, whether a member or not, please respond to this email, send a separate email to, or contact any ACE representative directly.

    • Educators make the final decision as to student grades. EC 49066
    • Seize any injurious object from any student while on school premises or under the authority of school personnel. EC 49331
    • By law, educators must be informed of each student who engaged in or is reasonably suspected of, acts that are grounds for suspension or expulsion within the past three years. EC 49079
    • Educators can suspend students from class for the day of suspension and the following day. Ask the parent or guardian to attend a conference as soon as possible. EC 48910
    • Parents/Guardians are liable for their minor children’s willful misconduct that causes injury to a person and/or property. EC 48904, 48905
    • A parent or guardian who materially disrupts a class or school activity is guilty of a misdemeanor. EC 44811

As educators, we should be aware of our rights and responsibilities under state and federal law as we navigate the challenges of working with students with disciplinary issues. Without the support of a union contract, we have to rely on existing laws and our school district’s policies. 

All students have a constitutional right to a free and equitable public education. As educators, we are all deeply committed to the success of all students, but the disruptive behaviors of some students can impact the learning environment in the classroom, put other students at risk, and, in extreme cases, threaten our own safety. 

We have a duty to maintain control over our students and classrooms, and our school district has a legal responsibility to establish and enforce discipline policies that support educators’ supervisory efforts. 

While every teacher has a general duty to maintain custody and control over their students, school districts have the legal responsibility to establish and enforce the discipline policy. Board members and administrators are responsible for general school administration, including enforcement of the school district’s discipline policy. 5 Cal. Code Reg. §§ 5551, 5530.

Still, district administrators sometimes fail to execute this responsibility in ways that support us in the classroom.

The Right to Suspend

California Ed Code 48910 allows a teacher to suspend a student from class for the day and for the following day. This means they are removed from that classroom and admin becomes responsible for taking appropriate action to supervise and support them. The teacher must also request a meeting with the student’s parents and, if they prefer, a counselor, psychologist, or admin to discuss the reason for the suspension. The administration cannot return the student to the teacher’s class during that time without the consent of the teacher. The list of reasons allowable under the law for suspending a student from the classroom is extensive. See Ed Code 48900(a) through (r).

The law expects us to try to resolve the behavior issue through other means prior to resorting to suspension. Certainly, suspensions alone are not the solution to this problem. In fact, we can all see that suspensions can have a negative impact on the student being suspended and can sometimes be used in a biased or discriminatory way that doesn’t help anyone. We can already see from the CDE dashboard that Clovis suspends students at a rate higher than the statewide average. Clearly when we say “a fair break for every kid,” we need to mean it. 

At the same time, we have to be able to maintain our classroom as a safe learning environment. There are many times when a student should have been removed from a classroom and supported in a more appropriate environment, but wasn’t. If we know what our rights are and are able to exercise them, we are better equipped to discuss alternative solutions. The larger and more important parts of the solution are providing appropriate support to avoid a suspension being necessary, making sure there are resources available to help a student make improvements, and re-integrating them into their classroom in partnership with the teacher. This means that a teacher may need support to make time to sit down with the student, their parents, and support staff if necessary before they return to class. 

The California Teachers Association’s Legal Department created a resource for school educators based on federal and state laws on school safety related to student behavior issues. We share this guide with you here, hoping it will be a valuable tool for you to use as a CUSD educator. Please note that this guide was last revised in 2020. The policy regarding “willful defiance” changed in 2021 and is no longer a basis for suspensions or expulsions. 

What Does a Union Have to Do with It?

Knowing our rights is the first step, but just knowing them is not enough – we also must have the means to enforce them. Here are the key reasons why a union is part of the solution:

  • A strong union educates its members about our rights and responsibilities in addressing student behavior so we can be confident we are exercising our rights without overstepping them. 
  • Through their union, teachers can bargain terms in the contract regarding student behavior under workplace safety, teacher evaluations, or directly in regards to student discipline (see an example from Santa Monica on page 57)
  • ACE/CTA members can organize to take a collective stand for good classroom management with guidance from education specialists and legal experts who know the topic in and out. 
  • Union members are protected by CTA legal services against retaliation and retribution if they take a stand that admin disagrees with.
  • If parents or guardians take legal action against the district and a union member for disciplining their student, CTA legal services can help ensure that the district fulfills its duty to support and protect the teacher and can step in if they don’t.

What can we do right now?

  • Support ACE as the union for all Clovis educators by signing the ACE Union Support Petition – when we reach majority we can bargain a union contract. The vote is going on right now! 
  • Join ACE/CTA as a member and enjoy the protections of union membership including training, legal services, professional liability insurance, representation when you need it, and solidarity with your fellow educators.
  • Join an ACE meeting on student behavior / classroom management. Email if you are interested.
  • Share your thoughts or concerns on this topic. ACE will be developing a survey tool to provide data to this conversation, but if you have issues or questions and would like to be part of the conversation, please email them to