School Choice

These Denver Principals Are Calling for an End to Suspensions of Young Students

In the world of education, few things are sadder or more ill-advised than suspending kids as young as 4 years old from school for behavioral infractions. Yet it happens frequently, in Denver and across Colorado. It’s a practice that must stop. That’s why as principals from both district-run and charter schools in Denver, we have come together to applaud Denver Public Schools (DPS) for preparing to enact a policy to reduce suspensions and eliminate expulsions for our youngest students. The research couldn’t be clearer: Early education is an essential building-block for young learners. It yields long-term success for children and helps build stronger communities. Removing students in third grade and younger from school for even part of a day for disciplinary reasons is bad policy. It can even lead to long-term negative effects. Research shows that young children who are suspended or expelled are as much as 10 times more likely to experience academic failure, to repeat a grade, to hold negative school attitudes, to drop out of high school, and to face incarceration. Why? Because they enter later grades already branded as troublemakers. Their negative record follows them as they move from elementary to middle school. What’s more, even at the youngest ages, suspensions and expulsions fall disproportionately on students of color, in Denver and across the nation. Despite this evidence, however, last school year 7,800 preschool through second-grade students in Colorado received out-of-school suspensions and 14 were expelled. We were disappointed to see a bill to address this issue across Colorado die in the legislature this spring. But when DPS picked up the mantle, it renewed our hope. Instead of suspending young students, schools should work closely with families to aid their children’s success at school, and employ additional in-school supports to help address behavior issues. Then, as children move from grade to grade, DPS should build on their strengths and inform schools of supports that were provided instead of the disciplinary measures that were imposed. This more positive framing would keep kids from being stigmatized for a behavior incident when they were four or five years old. Let’s be clear: Even our youngest students must face consequences for unacceptable behavior in school. But these consequences have to be developmentally appropriate for the child’s age. And they must, as DPS’ new policy states, “offer students an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and contribute back to the school community.” Only in cases where severe behaviors present an imminent risk of harm to the physical, emotional or mental health and safety of self, other students or staff will suspensions be considered. And they’ll be kept to a single day in most cases. We thought it important that charter and district-run schools write this piece together. While charter schools may waive certain DPS policies, we want to state unequivocally that the charters represented here either follow the DPS policy, have policies in place similar to the one DPS is enacting, or will adopt similar or identical policies in the near future. As school leaders, we commit to providing the training and support our staffs need to create a kind, nurturing environment where suspensions and expulsions become a distant memory. We strongly support enacting a sensible discipline policy for our youngest children, and are proud to be part of this forward-thinking effort.
An original version of this post appeared on Colorado School Talk.
Sara Gips Goodall is the principal of McGlone Academy, a public ECE-8 school in Far Northeast Denver. Sara’s life’s work has been rooted in educational equity, working with international NGOs, teaching a bilingual classroom, and then moving into school leadership. A member of Harvard’s 2012 School Leadership Program, her internship at Orchard Gardens K-8 solidified her belief in the power of ...

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