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D.C. Considers Halt on Pre-K Suspensions in Charter, Traditional Schools

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By Evie Blad. Cross-posted from the Rules for Engagement blog.

A Washington, D.C., council member plans to introduce legislation that would prohibit the city's charter schools and traditional public schools from suspending or expelling prekindergarten students in most situations, The Washington Post reported.

Like many states and districts around the country, Washington is considering how to rework a range of its discipline policies to address disparities and to reduce out-of-class time. Washington's traditional anddcsuspend2-thumb-400xauto-8428.jpg charter schools suspended prekindergarten students 181 times and had no expulsions in the 2012-13 school year, according to a report prepared by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. While that's fewer out-of-school suspensions than any other grade saw, some public officials think that even limited classroom removal is inappropriate for such young students.

The U.S. Department of Education's Civil Rights Data Collection for the 2011-12 school year is the first to track such discipline rates for pre-k students. Here's how an Education Week story described a sampling of the national data that Secretary Arne Duncan called "mind boggling."

"The Civil Rights Data Collection for the 2011-12 school year shows that more than 8,000 public preschoolers were suspended at least once, with black children and boys bearing the brunt of the discipline. Black youngsters make up about a fifth of all preschool pupils but close to half the children suspended more than once. Boys of all races represent 54 percent of the preschoolers included in the report but more than 80 percent of those suspended more than once."

In D.C., pre-K children have been suspended for "temper tantrums, classroom disruption, repeated vulgarity, and bathroom mishaps," according to the Post report. While the city's traditional public schools recently banned preschool suspensions, its charter schools typically set their own disciplinary policies. The proposed bill would only allow suspensions for the youngest students if students causes "'serious bodily harm' or possess drugs, alcohol or a weapon."

The Post article quotes the leader of AppleTree Early Learning, a network of seven charter schools, which had 81 pre-K suspensions in 2012-13.

"Jack McCarthy, AppleTree's executive director, said OSSE's data includes students who were sent home early, often because they had done something to create a safety concern such as biting another child or other violence ...

Scott Pearson, the executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said prohibiting early-childhood suspensions is an 'idea worth further discussion' but said that discussion must include school leaders who can explain why they have sometimes needed to suspend or expel a very young child.

Some schools have encountered young students who are violent, posing a safety issue, while others use suspension to send a message to the parent of a child who is habitually tardy, Pearson said."

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