The Pre-K Student Discipline Amendment Act of 2015 bans suspensions and expulsions for 3 and 4-year-old children in D.C. Public Schools. (Courtesy Photos)

In recent years, time outs, trips to the principal’s office, and in-school suspensions in the District have given way to full suspensions and expulsions as early as pre-kindergarten. Going forward those suspensions will be banned.

Statistics show 181 out-of-school suspensions for 3-and 4-year-olds during the 2012-2013 school year, causing many parents to call the disciplinary tactics excessive. On Jan. 6, the D.C. Council unanimously approved the Pre-K Student Discipline Amendment Act of 2015 to redress the educational achievement gap among low-income students by eliminating the astronomical number of small children unable to participate in class instruction due to suspensions.

At-Large council member David Grosso (I) introduced the bill. “These programs are intended to give students a strong start in their educations, and yet research shows that severe student discipline practices like out-of-school suspension and expulsion is widening the gap in terms of education equity and access for these students,” Grosso said. “My priority for the Committee is ensuring that our students are in the best position to succeed, and we know that students cannot do that if they are not present.”

This bill, according to Committee on Education Chairman Grosso, challenges teachers and administrators to examine other methods for managing behavioral issues of young students.

Tim Vance, policy analyst for D.C. Action for Children said that pre-k suspensions and expulsions in the District were “inappropriate responses to non-violent, age-appropriate behavior.”

“Beyond missed classroom time, research also tells us that suspending or expelling preschool-age students is an ineffective discipline strategy; young children may be unable to fully understand the relationship between their actions and the resulting punishment, and these discipline techniques, which can stigmatize children and families, can be particularly detrimental to healthy child development,” Vance said.

Citing a report from The U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), Vance said that in 2014 Black students accounted for 18 percent of the country’s pre-k enrollment, but made up 48 percent of preschoolers with multiple out-of-school suspensions. Black students were expelled at three times the rate of White students, and Black girls were suspended at higher rates than all other girls and most boys.

Northwest resident Carlos Vaughn is no stranger to school suspensions and expulsions. During his matriculation through D.C. Public Schools in the early 1980s, Vaughn said he misbehaved constantly – later attributed to a learning disability – and accumulated more than a hundred days of suspension in one academic year. Fortunately for Vaughn, his attendance at Francis Jr. High and their use of In-School Suspension, kept him in disciplinary segregation, but actively participating in class work. He said suspending very young children suggests the teachers, rather than the children, have trouble positively engaging.

“My grandchildren attend schools with “zero tolerance” rules that seem barbaric to me. They cannot touch other students, talk too much in class, or do things that all little kids do, because they become punishable offenses,” Vaughn said. “Our teachers knew the difference between mental health issues, learning disabilities, and troubled kids. They didn’t lump us all into one category just so they could get on with the lesson. They understood that we needed to learn, too.”

Grosso’s legislation also requires the Office of the State Superintendent to track and report all suspensions disaggregated by campus, grade, gender, race, and several other factors including whether the student is an English Language Learner, receives special education services, or is designated as at-risk.