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Should there be a ban on school suspensions for students in early grades?

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In June, the U.S. Department of Education released its 2013-2014 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) results.

The CRDC is an annual survey of all public schools and school districts in the country.

I posted some of the key findings from the report, which you can see here. But one of the most concerning data sets was about preschool suspensions in the U.S.

That's right, preschool.

Suspensions and expulsions of young students are not uncommon. But some researchers and critics question whether children in early grades should ever be suspended. According to The Washington Post:

The goal should be teaching appropriate behavior, they say, not sending students home. On those removed from school, the effect is complex. They lose instruction time and slip behind in classes. But there may be other fallout, too: lower regard from peers or teachers, a shift in identity, an alienation from school. In young children, particularly, misbehavior is a sign of something deeper — family problems, learning disabilities, academic gaps.

Last month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to ban school suspensions for students in Kindergarten through second grades. There is already a ban on Pre-K suspensions.

Student, parent, and teacher reform groups welcomed the news, which was made public along with data showing significant racial disparities in police-student interventions, according to The Atlantic.

But earlier this month, the de Blasio administration revealed major loopholes for the ban. WNYC reports:

In a summary of the proposed rule change, the department indicated schools will still be able to suspend little kids who are caught with a gun or “in response to behavior which is substantially disruptive of the educational process or substantially interferes with the teacher’s authority over the classroom when a student has already been removed from the classroom three times during a semester or twice during a trimester.”

Although de Blasio's announcement was initially cheered by those who oppose suspensions of young students, the proposed language has them second guessing its effectiveness. According to The Atlantic:

For school-reform advocates, the weak language of the proposal summary shared in the hearing was surprising, given that a full K-2 suspension ban already seemed to be a fairly modest step. The proposed reforms are part of a larger national debate over what should be done about school discipline, which reform advocates say is helping drive students into the criminal-justice system from very early ages.

There are also those – including educators, principals, and the teachers union – who oppose reforms to the district's disciplinary code. Rich Mantell is vice president for middle schools at the United Federation of Teachers. He told WNYCthe district "needs better thought-out and supported alternatives before eliminating suspensions." Mantell said:

There could be an adverse effect in the classroom. You know kids could act out. It'll affect the other students in the classroom, the teacher, the learning, which is why kids go to school. And I don't think you could just say 'let's ban it and everything will be fine.'

Some school districts around the country already have this type of ban in place. In the Houston Independent School District, kids in grades K-2 are only suspended in cases where state law requires it, such as acts of violence or bringing a weapon to school.

Connecticut's legislation unanimously passed a similar ban last year.

The New York City Department of Education is accepting public comments until later this month. According to The Atlanticadvocates are hopeful that after discussions the loophole can be closed.

Do you think there should be a ban on suspending students in early grades?

Paulette is a blogger for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously interned as a reporter in the Michigan Radio newsroom.
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