Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Avoiding suspensions in pre-K


At the first school board meeting under new CEO Gregory Thornton, Baltimore City Schools made changes to its Code of Conduct, including a move that is certain to reduce the number of suspensions given to 4- and 5-year-olds in pre-K or kindergarten, the Baltimore Sun reports.

Beginning next school year, principals will have to consult with people in the district’s central office before they issue a suspension of any length to a toddler in kindergarten or pre-K. The consultation will most likely give the principal a chance to explore other appropriate ways of dealing with behavior that doesn’t threaten physical harm to the out-of-control student or to others.

“When a youngster becomes unsafe, that youngster needs to be removed,” the Sun quoted Mr Thornton as saying. He said he has, in the past, suspended elementary students for carrying weapons in school.

The move follows new guidelines sent out by the Maryland State Board of Education, as we reported, and guidelines from the US Department of Education and the Department of Justice that recommend suspending students less so they have a better chance of finishing school. It also follows from a general finding that minority 4-year-olds get kicked out of school much more frequently than their white peers, as the New York Times reported.

But while state officials see a benefit of reducing the number of suspensions and keeping kids in school, at least two groups see it differently.

Building principals, for example, think the changes will reduce the amount of autonomy they have in determining how best to deal with existing situations and circumstances in their own buildings.

Second, parents of kids who don’t disrupt classes are complaining, a little. Keeping misbehaving students in the classroom, they say, will draw the teachers’ attention away from instruction and result in less instructional time for their children, who aren’t misbehaving at all and deserve just as much attention from the teacher as the out-of-control students.


To me, the parents’ argument seems better directed at teachers in the older grades, not in pre-K or kindergarten. It’s just as important for toddlers to develop social and emotional behavior skills as it is for them to receive instruction in something schools try to pass off as math or science. Sometimes in life, we have to deal with our problems since we won’t always be able to make them go away by kicking a kid out of school.

The most important lessons I ever learned were taught to me in pre-K and in kindergarten. I stand by that evaluation 50 years later. Thanks, Bobbie Noonan.

So, for right now, this new policy, aimed at reducing the number of suspensions issued to 4- and 5-year-olds needs to be given a chance to succeed in Baltimore City. If it fails and the learning environment in the schools doesn’t improve—note that Mr Thornton has asked the board to determine ways other than counting the number of suspensions for evaluating the learning climate at a school—then we need to take it back to the drawing board.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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