Stop Suspension in Elementary School
When Zero Tolerance Policies were instituted in public schools, the use of suspensions as a disciplinary measure increased. These zero tolerance policies were designed by school districts to increase school safety and were unusually strict. In one instance, an elementary school child was expelled from school because she had a small plastic knife in her lunch box. In another, a 12-year old was handcuffed, arrested, and detained at a New York City Police Department for writing on her desk.
The number of suspensions has dropped since the beginning of this century. Schools found that out-of-school suspensions caused children to fall behind in their class work and did not increase school safety. Children who were frequently suspended were also often more likely to absent and drop out of school at an early age. Sadly, as reported in the 2017 Brown Center Report on American Education, children of color and children with disabilities are more likely to be suspended than caucasian and non-disabled children—leaving these children at greater risk of entering the pipeline to prison.
Boston schools have just agreed to end suspensions for children in Kindergarten through 2nd grade, and to never use suspensions for minor offenses. This was agreed upon in response to a group of parents represented by Greater Boston Legal Services—proving that our advocacy matters!
Many schools in lower income districts are underfunded, and teachers have little time and training to work with a child whose behavior is regularly disruptive. In a well-funded public school, there may be:
• Early Intervention for children who cannot adapt to the classroom, along with special help;
• Aides in the classroom who assist children that require extra help;
• Social skills taught in Pre-K and kindergarten that encourage cooperative behavior;
• Alternative classes designed for children with disabilities;
• Students with more homogeneous backgrounds, and English learning classes.
In districts with lower funding, discipline is much more difficult. Classes are large and classroom assistants are rare. Where possible, some schools have adopted policies such as the following:
• Developing and using “The Responsive Classroom” approach, or teaching social and emotional skills as well as literacy and math skills in Pre-K, kindergarten and early grades;
• Encouraging a community spirit in the classroom so that children feel part of a group and are responsive to one another;
• Supporting positive behaviors, and listening to children who are anxious, fatigued or otherwise distressed;
• Suspending children temporarily—in school—when they are deemed to be out of control;
• Incorporating parents and families into the process; and
• Limiting the use of law enforcement to discipline children.
Promise the Children partners with The REAL Program to support the Brickett Public School in Lynn. REAL includes pre-school and out-of-school programs as well as observation and training programs for students learning to be teachers. REAL also offers English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. Promise the Children would like to encourage immigrant parents to attend gatherings that bring children and parents together. We also encourage parents to learn English and secure a high school diploma so they can better support the education of their children. Working together, we can give our pre-school and elementary school children a strong start—socially, emotionally and academically.