“Problems” Into Potential: Banning Pre-k Through Second Grade Suspensions

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The HISD Board of Trustees voted to remove language from the district’s policy proposal that would have ended suspensions and expulsions in pre-k through second grade.

Imagine a school suspending a four-year-old because the child couldn’t tie their shoes. The idea of suspending a student for failure to master a skill seems ridiculous. Although students aren’t being expelled because they can’t tie their shoes, more than 38,000 pre-k through second grade students in Texas are suspended for behavior caused by failure to master social and emotional skills such as self-control, according to Texas Appleseed in their recent study on the school to prison pipeline.

Even more troubling is the data showing that the majority of these young suspended students are disproportionately boys of color, low-income, and/or students who are already behind academically and are only set back further by suspensions for their behavioral difficulties. “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,” according to a 2014 Departments of Education & Health and Human Services Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension Policies in Early Childhood Settings.

As a teacher and mother of two small children, I know the momentary feeling of relief when a difficult child leaves my room and becomes “someone else’s problem,” but I also know the profound feeling of power and possibility when a new teaching strategy – like Positive Behavior Intervention or other Restorative Justice practices- is used to effectively reach the most challenging child in my classroom. Even more empowering is knowing that district at large and school administrators have the will and the resources to support teachers, and the capacity to help de-escalate any potentially unsafe situations, instead of simply casting out young students with the greatest need for emotional and academic support.

The HISD Board of Trustees had the opportunity to provide the additional support administrators, teachers and students need when they voted during a second reading of the proposed student discipline policy on Thursday December 10th. By eleminating suspensions and expulsions in pre-k through second grade, the Board could have sent a clear message that they continue to put students first by committing to increase training for teachers and support for an alternative to exclusionary discipline.

These young suspended children are not “someone else’s problem”. They are our city’s potential for a future with less violence, fewer young men in prison instead of college and more compassion for those among us with the greatest need.