Attorney General Bonta to Natomas Unified: You Can Address Discipline Issues and Still Keep Kids in School

Tuesday, August 30, 2022
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

Files amicus brief urging appellate court to overturn unlawful expulsion of elementary school student

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced filing an amicus brief in Natomas Unified School District v. Sacramento County Board of Education urging the appellate court to overturn an unlawful expulsion of an elementary school student. Under California law, students have a constitutional right to an education. Mandatory expulsions are reserved for students who pose the greatest threat to safety and school districts must follow the law before deciding to expel a student from school. Students with discipline issues should be kept in school, allowing their behaviors to be corrected without derailing their education — provided that can be accomplished in a way that keeps all students safe. In the current case, the school district failed to adhere to California's standards for school discipline designed to protect the rights of all students.

“Every child in California has the right to go to school and get an education,” said Attorney General Bonta. “When there are disciplinary issues, expulsion should be the tool of last resort — not a default. Removing children from school can have enormous life-long consequences. California has rightly moved away from exclusionary discipline that has disproportionately harmed students of color and other vulnerable student groups. Bottom line: You can address discipline issues and still keep kids in school. I urge the appellate court to protect the rights of all of California’s students and erase this unlawful expulsion from the record.”

In 2019, the Natomas Unified School District improperly expelled an elementary school student who reportedly brought unloaded, orange-tipped airsoft guns and a sealed bag of white plastic pellets to school. While school administrators should rightfully be concerned by such behavior, schools must follow the law before deciding to expel a student. To protect all students’ interests, the California Legislature enacted a detailed statutory framework governing student discipline. In enacting this framework, the Legislature has recognized that nonpunitive classroom discipline and in-school discipline strategies are more effective and efficient than suspension and expulsion for addressing the majority of student misconduct — and that suspensions and expulsions disproportionately harmed students of color, students with disabilities, LGBT students, and other vulnerable student populations. Accordingly, California mandates the expulsion only of students who pose the greatest threat to safety for specified violations. In less serious circumstances, such as in this case, schools must lawfully establish expulsion as the appropriate disciplinary action, only after providing students with a full and fair opportunity to present a defense. The school district, in this case, expelled the student without following the law, the Sacramento County Board of Education then correctly reversed that order, and the trial court then erroneously set aside the County Board's decision. The case is now currently on appeal before the California Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate District.

In the amicus brief, the Attorney General explains:

  • A school district may not expel a student for willful defiance or disrupting school activities;
  • Before expelling a student for a may-expel violation, a school district must make a supported finding that such discipline is appropriate;
  • A school district’s “continuing danger” finding supporting expulsion requires an individualized inquiry into the student’s unique circumstances;
  • In this case, the school district did not conduct an individualized inquiry into the student’s unique circumstances;
  • Before expelling a student for any violation, a school district must afford students the process set out in the Education Code; and
  • A school district must provide students an opportunity to present relevant and material evidence in their own defense.

A copy of the amicus brief is available here.

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