I assumed preschoolers were exempt from suspension because of age and innocence, but clearly I was wrong.
In a report due to be released on Friday by the Education Department’s civil rights arm, Black children represent about 18 percent of the preschool population but almost half of the students suspended more than once.
Overall, Black students of all ages are suspended and expelled at a rate three times higher than that of white children.
Advocates have long argued that school suspension and arrest policies contribute to a “school-to-prison” pipeline that disproportionately affects minority students, but the focus was on middle and high schools. This data shows that racial disparities start way before then. It doesn’t, however, explain why they exist or why the students were even suspended in the first place.
Daniel Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies for the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, says it’s appropriate to discipline a preschooler, but it’s more appropriate to move the student to a different educational setting with additional services.
“Most preschool kids want to be in school,” Losen said. “Kids just don’t understand why they can’t go to school.”
Principal Kimbrelle Lewis of Raleigh-Bartlett Meadows Elementary School in Memphis says she’s never suspended a child in her school’s head start program and would only consider suspension in an “extreme circumstance.”
“I do think [racial disparities among preschoolers is] something to look at. I think it’s a conversation to have,” says Lewis, who’s also served on a committee with the National Association of Elementary School Principals looking at issues affecting younger school children.