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March 21, 2014 - Betsy Bethel
Reading the news this morning that thousands of preschoolers in public schools across the country are being suspended made my heart feel squeezed like a grapefruit. I truly can think of no reason to suspend a 4- or 5-year-old from school. The article (see link) did not give reasons for the suspensions, but it noted that the number of suspensions meted out to black children is disproportionately higher, a trend which recently was noted to continue into the higher grades.

Even if a child repeatedly hurts another child or a teacher, of if he refuses to do what is expected of him or her, that is no reason for a "suspension." Telling a child that young that she is "suspended" from school sends them one message, that they are bad and aren't worthy. If the child needed counseling before the suspension, which most likely she did, she certainly will need it afterward!

And what if the child's parent has to lose a day's wages because the child must stay home? Depending on what kind of parent we're talking about, that could spell trouble for the child — at the least it means the family suffers because of the loss of income, at the most it means the child will be doubly punished for causing the problem. Then there's the possibility that he or she will suffer neglect if the parent chooses to leave the child at home in order to go to work and do whatever it is they do doing the school day.

Once again, we're not talking about middle- or high-schoolers. We're talking about 4- and 5-year-olds! Babies! Little ones who are still learning how the world works and what is expected of them. If they have so much anger in them that they are being violent at school at that age, they need to be helped, not sent away. I would like to know from the preschool teachers and administrators if, when a suspended preschooler returns the next school day, has his behavior improved? Or is he even more marginalized or more disruptive.

And I wonder how many of these suspensions are because a child formed his hand — or his fruit roll-up or grilled cheese sandwich — into the shape of a gun so he can to play Star Wars with his friends. I am always appalled when I read these stories of zero-tolerance gone haywire. Do we really think a preschooler is a threat to the safety of other children?

Do we need to send a message to our children early on in their development that hurting others is wrong? Of course. There are all kinds of ways to nip bullying in the bud — by educating children, supporting them and getting them any help they need. Not by shunning them and telling them they can't go to school.


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