Our youngest children should not be kicked out of or suspended from school. That must be the ultimate, unbending goal for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system. The long-term consequences for that short-term response to unruly behavior are too great. The adults in charge must find a better way.
The only question is how to make that happen, because it is unseemly that up to 1,100 students 4- to 8-years-old are being suspended every year. The school board’s Policy Committee didn’t come up with a clear answer last week after a couple years of study, and the school board may essentially punt the question to the superintendent.
But the school board should not punt. It should lay out clear guidelines that spell out that only in extraordinary circumstances can such a punishment be used against our youngest students. And even then, it should be allowed only after every other viable option has been exhausted and reviewed and approved by independent educators and others with early-child development expertise.
The options to respond to difficult-to-corral behavior by youngsters, short of suspension or expulsions, naturally should include many techniques and tactics teachers and schools already deploy, including in-school suspension – that must include real academic instruction time – more periods of one-on-one interaction with the unruly student and a designated educator, and more structured time with guidance counselors.
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That’s a high bar, as it should be. There is a compelling body of developing research showing that students who are suspended or kicked out of school that early in their school careers have worse academic outcomes and are less likely to graduate. The loss of instruction time and less time spent in a structured environment among others who model appropriate behavior seem to be major drivers of adverse academic outcomes. Suspending students early simply makes it that much more difficult to teach them effectively later.
Not only that, there is a massive racial divide among the students who receive this punishment. They are most often black and Latino, and, less frequently, poor and white. They need uninterrupted schooling more than better-situated students to counteract challenges they may be facing at home or in their neighborhoods. Schools didn’t create those problems but must find a way to effectively deal with children forced to struggle with them.
Additionally, studies have shown that black students, in particular, sometimes receive this level of punishment when their behavior is no more egregious than their white counterparts – and sometimes when they have not misbehaved at all. Social cues and culturally based expectations affect teachers’ perceptions, often without them realizing it.
“Greater scrutiny of black students … may contribute to the increased likelihood of preschool expulsions and suspensions with black children, and black boys more specifically,” a report by the Yale Child Study Center found.
This issue is too important to let another school year begin without a clear plan. The school board needs to speak in a loud voice that suspending our youngest, most vulnerable students should no longer be standard practice.