Suspended Childhood An Analysis of Exclusionary Discipline of Texas' Pre-K and Elementary School Students
A study of nearly one million Texas public school children found that 97% of classroom removals were discretionary and were not required by law. These removals were made in response to Student Code of Conduct violations.
Missed Classroom Time: When children are removed from class they lose important learning time. A student who is suspended 40 times could miss between 40 and 120 days of classroom learning time each year, out of 180 total school days. When students are not learning from their regular classroom teachers they can quickly fall behind, leaving them feeling frustrated, detached from school, and hopeless.
Creates Mistrust: Young students are often punished for very minor behaviors, like dress code violations or talking during class. In other instances, a child's actions may be a symptom of other, more serious underlying issues that should be addressed with evaluations, treatment, and appropriate services.
In either case, when children are excluded from class they begin to lose faith in a system that seems to punish them, and their peers, randomly and without regard for the underlying cause of the behavior. This mistrust can shape childrens' attitudes toward school for the rest of their lives.
Difficult for Families: School discipline removals can cause stress for families, particularly when DAEP placements and out-of-school suspensions require parents to adjust their work schedules. This adjustment may be a particularly significant burden for working families in Texas who could find it difficult to stay at home to care for young children excluded from school.
Garrett, an 8 year-old 2nd grader with autism was sent home over 50 days in one semester due to behavioral problems. Garrett's aunt was always called to pick him up. She eventually lost her job because she missed so many days caring for her nephew. The aunt decided to home school Garrett because he was not receiving an education from the school district and she could not hold a job with all of his class removals.
--- Houston-area attorney who represents children who are pushed out of school.
Ineffective "Solution": The use of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions does not improve student behavior or overall school climate, according to the American Psychological Association. In fact, these exclusions have been shown to negatively impact individual student behavior and classroom climate.
Other, research-based alternatives to exclusionary discipline, like Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports and Restorative Discipline, have been shown to improve student behavior and dramatically reduce the use of classroom removals.
Lisa, a 7 year-old student with intellectual disabilities was sent home two to three times per week for behavioral issues. The school district never conducted the necessary behavior evaluations that should be performed for students with disabilities until Lisa's parents found an attorney to help them.
--- Houston-area advocate
Early Labeling: Students who are removed from their classrooms may feel as though they have been labeled as "bad" or "problem" children. This can be particularly devastating for young children who are in the process of developing their self-identities and forging relationships with teachers and peers. A negative label could have a significant impact on a child's social-emotional development, teachers' expectations for success, and treatment from peers.
Poor Modeling: Very young children are in the process of learning effective communication and conflict resolution techniques, often basing their behaviors on the models they see in school. When suspensions and expulsions are used—especially to address minor behaviors or in response to actions that actually require real interventions—young children begin to believe, incorrectly, that punishment and exclusion are the only ways to solve problems.
Disproportionate Impact: Black children, boys, and students with disabilities are punished at disproportionately high rates. Often, these differences are most stark for very young children.
- In the U.S., African American students represent 18% of pre-school enrollment, but account for 42% of students suspended once and 48% of students suspended more than once.
Studies show that many educators have unconscious, or implicit, biases that impact how they assess and punish the behavior of certain groups of students, like children of color and students with disabilities. These biases can cause educators to punish some students more harshly and more frequently than others, even for the exact same behaviors.