In 2021, 250 preschoolers nationwide were suspended or expelled each day. That’s an expulsion rate three and a half times greater than that of K-12 students. Dr. Walter Gilliam, Executive Director of Nebraska University’s Buffett Early Childhood Institute, has identified the suspension and expulsion of preschoolers as an epidemic primarily impacting black and brown boys. According to the journal, Scientific American, “half of the 250 kids expelled from preschool each day are black.” Although black and brown children represented only 18% of preschool enrollment, they made up 42% of preschooler suspension.
The practice of suspensions and expulsions, often referred to by preschool administrations as “unenrollment,” have far reaching implications that perpetuate existing racial inequities. When a child is expelled from preschool, families often struggle to re-enroll their child in a new early education setting. This can cause both immediate and lasting negative impact. Early education is vital for school-readiness and social-emotional development. The interruption of early childhood education contributes to a spectrum of long-lasting inequities. According to DiversityDataKids.org, children who are suspended or expelled are “denied the social-emotional, behavioral and cognitive development necessary for lifelong success.” As a result, these children are up to ten times more likely to drop out of high school, experience academic failure, hold negative school attitudes and be incarcerated later in life. These negative effects are difficult to reverse and are rooted in racial inequity.
Too many suspensions and expulsions of young black and brown boys are the result of racial bias, limited cultural understanding, and inadequate responses to challenging behaviors. In a September 2021 study published in the journal Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, data revealed that teachers tended to complain more about Black students, particularly Black boys, and identified Black students’ behavior as more problematic compared with white students. It is imperative that educators be equipped with strategies to prevent and address challenging behaviors and counter their own implicit bias.
ECLC’s Infant Toddler Mental Health Consultation (ITMHC) project works with child care programs and providers to support the improvement of children’s social and emotional functioning, reduce challenging behaviors, and eliminate the prevalence of suspensions and expulsions of black and brown children. The Pyramid Model is also an effective approach for addressing challenging behaviors in early childhood settings that may lead to suspensions. The Pyramid Model utilizes culturally responsive practices that when applied in classrooms, can greatly reduce suspensions and expulsions.
In September of 2022, ECLC’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging (DEIB) team identified an opportunity to increase community awareness about the lasting and punitive impact of suspensions and expulsions on young black and brown boys. The goal was to expand the field of community participation, knowledge and action to collectively work towards reducing suspensions and expulsions of young black and brown boys. National, state, and local leaders from various backgrounds and sectors, including Dr. Walter Gilliam, attended ECLC’s “It Takes a Village Summit.” The annual summit was the container in which a cross-sector dialogue could begin about how, together, we can work to reduce and eliminate the disproportionate rate at which black and brown children are removed from childcare and early education settings. The Village Approach considers inadequate housing, health care, food deserts, and lack of resources as other factors in classroom behavior.
ECLC’s Expulsion & Suspension Toolkit developed in partnership with NYS ECLAN/NBCDI, was created in 2016 to spread awareness. This toolkit is for educators, parents, and business partners alike and informs each of how they can advocate against early childhood suspensions and expulsions.