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Washington, D.C., Considers Banning Preschool Suspensions

Advocates in Washington, D.C., welcomed a bill that would ban most suspensions and expulsions from public preschool programs, which was discussed during a public hearing in the nation's capital last week.

Though the bill, introduced by City Council Member David Grosso, would govern policy in only one city, it touches on a more widespread issue. A U.S. Department of Education study released in March caused a small furor when it showed that black students nationally are far more likely to be suspended than white students, even in preschool.

According to the study:

Black children represent 18% of preschool enrollment, but 48% of children receiving more than one out-of-school suspension; in comparison, white students represent 43% of preschool enrollment but 26% of preschool children receiving more than one out-of-school suspension.

The numbers in Washington, D.C., tell a similar story, where black students in the public PreK-12 system are nearly six times more likely to be suspended than their white peers, according to a report by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. The report does not break down preschool suspensions by race.

Advocates met Grosso's bill, which would allow suspensions only in cases involving weapons, drugs, or "serious bodily harm," with enthusiasm and some caution, according to an article in The Washington Post.

"We must acknowledge that this is just one step to ending the school-to-prison pipeline," Maggie Riden, executive director of D.C. Alliance of Youth Advocates, told the Post.

If it passes, the bill could foreshadow similar legislation in other cities that boast large public preschool programs, a category that is growing as enthusiasm for such programs accelerates. Dozens of news agencies covered the Education Department study when it was first released in March, to the outrage of many parents.

In addition to the racial element, some experts question the usefulness of suspending a child under 5. Do they even understand that they are being punished? The radio program "This American Life" did a particularly poignant job of asking this question in Act One of its October 2014 episode: "Is This Working?"

If Grosso's bill passes it would be the first of its kind that I've heard of getting on the books as a citywide policy. Am I missing a similar policy elsewhere? Let me know in the comments!

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