Highlights From This Year’s New Education Laws

By Eric E. Stevens, Attorney at Law

With the end of California’s 2022/2023 legislative session approaching, it’s time to start reviewing the new laws that will impact public schools in upcoming school years.

  1. Schools must add information on the dangers of synthetic drugs like fentanyl to their websites and handbooks (AB 889)

Beginning with the 2024/2025 school year, school districts, charter schools, and county offices of education must inform parents or legal guardians about the dangers associated with using synthetic drugs, including fentanyl and counterfeit pills. (Ed. Code section 48985.5.) This information must be included on the organization’s website. It must also be annually provided to parents or legal guardians, making it a potentially convenient addition to the information in your annual parent/student handbook.

State Superintendent Tony Thurmond wrote education leaders in October 2022 to emphasize the dangers posed to students from synthetic drugs and provided a four-page flyer of resources. (Available here: https://www.cde.ca.gov/nr/el/le/yr22ltr1027.asp) An LEA may use this information to help write the additions to their website and handbook. CDE may provide new model language before the start of the 2023/2024 school year.

  1. No suspensions or expulsions for disrupting school activities or willful defiance (SB 274*)

    Beginning July 1, 2024, no student may be suspended for disrupting school activities or willful defiance. This ban is indefinite for students in grades K through 5. However, as currently written, this limitation sunsets for students in grades 6-12, permitting an LEA to once again suspend students in these grades for disruption/defiance on or after July 1, 2029. However, the legislative trend is clearly towards permanently eliminating these grounds for suspension or expulsion.

    A teacher’s right to suspend a student from their classroom for the remainder of the day and following day (in-school suspension) is not removed. SB 274 gives certificated and classified staff the ability to “refer a pupil to school administrators for appropriate and timely in-school interventions or supports” due to disruption of school activities or willful defiance. (Ed. Code section 48900(k)(5)(A).) When this happens, a school administrator shall, within five business days, document the interventions and supports used in response to a disruption/defiance referral in the student’s file and inform the referring staff member, verbally or in writing, what interventions or supports were used or why no actions were taken. (Ed. Code section 48900(k)(5)(B).) As a remainder, Education Code section 48900.5(b) provides a list of potential interventions and supports, or “other means of correction,” which may be tried in response to a disruption/defiance referral.

    Through June 30, 2024, no student may be expelled for disruption or willful defiance, but students in grades 9 through 12 may be suspended for these grounds.

    1. All-gender restrooms will soon be mandatory for all but the smallest campuses (SB 760*)

    By July 1, 2026, each school district, charter school, and county office of education maintaining classes for any of grades 1 through 12 must ensure that each school site with more than one female restroom and more than one male restroom (excluding TK and K restrooms) also has at least one all-gender restroom. (Ed. Code section 35292.5(b).) The all-gender restroom must have signage and be unlocked, unobstructed, and easily accessible by any student during school hours. Existing restrooms can be used to satisfy this requirement. Schools may still temporarily close restrooms and stay in compliance with these requirements if the closures are for repairs or due to a documented or immediate threat to pupil safety. CDE will develop and post guidance on its website for implementing this new requirement, including examples of signage.

    On and after July 1, 2026, when any school district, charter school, or county office of education applies for state facility modernization funding, the application must include an all-gender restroom designed exclusively for student use (excluding TK and K restrooms) if the schoolsite has not already established an all-gender restroom. (Ed. Code section 17585.)

    Finally, while the legislation is silent on this point, SB 760’s author Sen. Josh Newman has said that it was written with the understanding that all-gender bathrooms would be single-occupancy private spaces.

    (*At the time of this writing, Gov. Newsom had not signed SB 274 and 760 into law. He is expected to sign these bills into law and has until October 14, 2023, to act.) 

    For further assistance, please contact Eric Stevens at stevens@estattorneys.com.