In 2015, researchers scrutinized the effects of out-of-school suspension in Maryland Public Schools. They found that out-of-school suspensions are linked to drop-out rates, disengagement, and criminal activities. Those same researchers also found that between 1974 and 2010, the suspension rate has risen by 14% among African-American students. Between 2013-2014, 7.8% of pre-K students have been suspended at least once – a rate higher than the 2015 unemployment rate.

The statewide out-of-school suspension rate of African-American students is over 10%. Garrett County in Eastern Maryland, where there is a small African-American population (less than 1% as of 2013), has been suspending African-American students at the rate 21.67% since 2014. The higher rate of suspension for African-American students is a factor across the state (except for Baltimore City) but especially prevalent in counties with a low population of African-American residents.

Andy Pierre, Executive Director of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland (LinkedIn Photo)

Andy Pierre, Executive Director of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland (LinkedIn Photo)

These numbers include the students who are being suspended at the pre-K level. According a report by Duke University, African-American students with emotional, behavioral, or learning disabilities are the most likely to be suspended. In some cases, Black students are suspended for minor misconduct. So, not only is the practice of suspensions having a disparate impact on students of color, but it leads to higher drop-out rates, lower performances, and it does nothing to improve school safety.

When a student who has very little parental supervision at home is suspended, is the problem solved? Simply put, no, and these are the students that need adult guidance the most. At the pre-K level, this practice doesn’t seem to factor in that most parents work long hours, and many work for an hourly income, so suspending a toddler for acting up can potentially cause financial hardship for that family.

Under the current law, local school systems are charged with establishing their own methods for dealing with disruptive students. In doing so, principals have been authorized to suspend pre-K students for up to 10 school days and expel a pre-K student with the approval of the superintendent. The unintended consequences of this system is that minority students are disproportionally and more frequently suspended which is linked to higher drop-out rates  and future run-ins with the law.

This pervasive problem is why banning pre-K suspensions is one of the top priorities of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland for the 2017 Legislative session. The practice of pre-K suspension is a repugnant attempt at solving a hard problem with a seemingly easy solution, and it does way more harm than good. Meanwhile there are alternatives to suspension that have been proven to work effectively. These alternatives to suspension are more likely to achieve the desired results, rather than giving a student a vacation for misbehaving.

Black Caucus member Senator William C. Smith of Montgomery County has introduced legislation to address this problem. Senator Smith’s bill, that will be heard in the Senate on March 8, prohibits the suspension or expulsion of pre-Kindergarten students while requiring the school to employ special intervention methods and provide support to address behavioral problems in students.

Andy Pierre is the Executive Director of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland.