D.C. Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) introduced on Monday the “Pre-K Student Discipline Amendment Act of 2014.” This legislation prohibits the suspension or expulsion of a student of pre-kindergarten age from any publicly funded pre-kindergarten program operating in the District of Columbia. It also establishes annual reporting requirements for each local education agency on suspensions and expulsions data.
Last month, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education released a report “Reducing Out-of-School Suspensions and Expulsions in the District of Columbia Public and Public Charter Schools.” The report found that during the 2012-2013 school year approximately 10,000 of the District’s 80,000 public school students were suspended at least once. One hundred and eighty one of those students were enrolled in prekindergarten programs.
“While I understand that children at times can be difficult, I have a hard time understanding what behavior of a 3 or 4-year old would constitute an out-of-school suspension or expulsion,” said Councilmember Grosso. “We are beginning the school-to-prison pipeline before some students even have the opportunity to fully begin their educational pursuits.”
The adverse effects of out-of-school suspension and expulsion on a student can be profound. Data suggest that students who are involved in the juvenile justice system are likely to have been suspended or expelled. Further, students who experience out-of-school suspension and expulsion are as much as 10 times more likely to ultimately drop out of high school than are those who do not.
The District would not be the first jurisdiction to recognize that when it comes to our youngest students zero tolerance-style school discipline policies are not always appropriate. Just last month, the Chicago Public School Board of Education voted to prohibit the suspension of Pre-K through 2nd grade students except for cases involving extreme safety concerns. In Washington State, students in grades K-4 cannot receive long-term suspensions, and no student in grades K-4 can be suspended for more than a total of 10 school days during any single semester. In 2012, New York City decided that no student in grades K-3 should be suspended for longer than five days.
“The conversation regarding student discipline is ripe in the District of Columbia. Regardless of which sector our youngest public school students begin their education, it is in the public interest that the most extreme options with regard to student discipline be age and developmentally appropriate,” said Grosso.