Standing Together Against Suspension & Expulsion in Early Childhood

Can you imagine being labeled as a “bad kid” and being removed from your classroom during your first years of school? Madisyn Moore, a six-year-old girl in Chicago Public Schools, felt the weight of this label when she was arrested for taking candy off her teacher’s desk without asking last month. And recently, Dr. Rosemarie Allen from Metropolitan State University of Denver, shared that she herself had been suspended and expelled over eight times starting in kindergarten. These discipline practices are stressful experiences for children and their families and can negatively impact students' development and health.

Dr. Allen was able to overcome her teachers’ low-expectations for her behavior and academic performance. She now researches disparities in discipline practices in the early years. She explains in an interview with Chalkbeat how children, like herself, feel when they are removed from school, saying, “By the time they get to kindergarten and they’ve been kicked out of about two or three facilities, now they’re already disengaged from the learning process...They’re disenfranchised even from other kids because now they’re labeled “bad.””    

Both Madisyn and Dr. Allen are African American girls. African American and Latino students are suspended and expelled at much higher rates than their white peers, particularly in the early years. Young students who are expelled or suspended are as much as 10 times more likely to drop out of high school, experience academic failure and grade retention, hold negative school attitudes, and face incarceration than those who are not.

Last week, New America’s Early & Elementary Education Policy program along with over 30 other organizations signed a joint statement against suspension and expulsion in the early years up through third grade. The National Association for the Education of Young Children produced a companion document with resources to help parents and families, teachers and schools, and policymakers end expulsion and suspension in the early years. The Administration for Children and Families also released a document highlighting state and local policies that have prevented suspension and expulsion in the early years to show that it can be done.

Suspension and expulsion in the early years and grades is not an intervention to help child behavior. In fact, as Dr. Walter Gilliam of the Yale Child Study Center has stated, “suspension and expulsion are adult decisions.” More appropriate discipline interventions include:

  1. Fostering better relationships between teachers, parents, and children;
  2. Providing teachers with greater access to early childhood mental health consultants and crisis counseling to support children who have had multiple adverse childhood experiences;
  3. Supporting teachers in creating a nurturing and accessible classroom environment;
  4. Diversifying the teacher workforce and making sure educators are cognizant of bias;
  5. Providing professional development on anti-bias and culturally competent teaching practice; and
  6. Increasing compensation and ensuring the mental health of early childhood educators to reduce their stress and its impact on children.
Ending the suspension and expulsion of young children is imperative. Students need to view their classroom as a welcoming and safe place where they can make mistakes, learn, and grow without being removed from their school. African American and Latino children are entitled to this opportunity just as much as their white peers. Policymakers and educators should ban suspension and expulsion in the early years and grades and seek alternative and more developmentally-appropriate approaches to disciplining children that may need extra socioemotional support."

Author:

Shayna Cook is a policy analyst with the Education Policy program at New America. She is a member of the Learning Technologies project. Cook researches and reports on innovation in family engagement, new technologies, and digital equity issues concerning children from birth through third grade.