EYE OF THE TIGER’S VIEW: Arrest calls for clear definition of ‘actionable defiance’

Vague policy puts students at mercy of administrative judgement




An administrator stopped a student in the halls for a routine dress code. Another student walking by made an explicit comment about the dress code.

The administrator asked the student to return and for her name, she refused, or defied, both of these commands. The administrator summoned the youth services officer to try to control the student.

Once the student defied the youth service officer’s efforts, she was in violation of Penal Code, Section 148 which in this case prohibits the student from obstructing or delaying the officer’s duties. This incident initiated conversation and controversy over whether or not the student was justly handcuffed, but is just a part of a larger question of administrative discipline.

The fact is that as long as an officer is involved, any student deemed to be acting defiance in is at risk of getting handcuffed due to a blurry, vague, open-to-interpretation definition of what qualifies as “actionable defiance,” the unlawful behavior described in Penal Code, Section 148. This fact is the larger issue: There is no precise description of “actionable defiance,” so it’s left to administrators’ judgment, judgment that could be questionable and inconsistent, to determine if an officer should get involved in an instance of defiance.

This fluid and undefined procedure is a volatile fit for the power it gives administrators, and students deserve an actionable defiance policy at least as clear as the dress code guidelines. Without a clear and unanimous understanding of  “actionable defiance,” an administrator can manipulate it to their advantage to stifle any protesting or disrespectful comments.

Actionable defiance shouldn’t describe behavior that isn’t out of the administrator’s control, a student who doesn’t want to give an administrator their name shouldn’t have an officer called to reinforce the authority. That should not be the knee-jerk reaction, anyways.

If all it takes to violate Penal Code, 148 is the same level of resistance towards an officer as towards an administrator, then the next step after a student defies an administrator’s commands is to call an officer.

And if this level of resistance is all it takes for an administrator to consider “actionable defiance,” then that needs to be either declared in paper or there need to be fair warnings and mediating measures between a student rebelling against an administrator and that administrator calling for authoritative coercion, because currently neither are in place and students are at the mercy of administrators’ judgement.

An officer’s assistance should be called if a student is physically dangerous, purposefully denying a student’s right to free education or violating privacy. These are cases of defiance that are understandably actionable. An officer’s assistance should not be called if a student is criticizing a policy, not identifying themselves or walking away from an administrator who wants to talk to them.

This article represents the views of the 2016-17 editorial board.