Sad boy with teddy bear. (Pikul Noorod via Shutterstock)
(Pikul Noorod via Shutterstock)
Kathryn Scheinberg Meyer, J.D., Center for Children’s Advocacy; Sarah Eagan, J.D., Office of the Child Advocate, and; State Representative Robyn Porter of the 94th District.

After the past year we have all endured, it has become all the more critical that the children of 2021 have access to as much time in the classroom as possible. Young children, in particular, are in desperate need of the consistent structure, as well as the social-emotional skills that quality preschool and early elementary grades can impart.

That is why the legislature must reinstate House Bill 6667’s ban on suspensions for young children. Currently, the law allows schools to suspend little children for “conduct … of a sexual or violent nature which endangers persons.” This language is offensive, developmentally inappropriate, and condemns our youngest students to identification as perpetrators. This loophole needs to be remedied immediately. Very young children who act out in school are most often in need of support themselves, not shaming and exclusion.

a green button that says support and red button that says oppose

While Connecticut has been lauded for Public Act 15-96 (2015), a reform which sought to largely eliminate the suspension of children in preschool through second grade, the fact remains that almost 2,000 children ages 3 to 7 – over 70% of whom are children of color – were suspended from school during the 2018-19 school year.

Suspension of young children creates racial, ethnic, and disability disparities that violate federal civil rights law, and which the state is responsible to remedy.  We know that kicking a small child out of school simply does not work. It harms the child, ostracizes him from the classroom, burdens the family, and does nothing to help the teacher when the child returns or address the root of the child’s behavior. Exclusionary discipline tells children – mostly children of color – that they are unwelcome in their school community. COVID-19 school closures have created enough disconnection – it is time to open our arms to returning students, not close the schoolhouse door.

Our goal is to support students and schools so that school administrators do not feel the need to resort to suspending and expelling children, knowing that it does substantially much more harm than good. ESSERS-2 money can and should be used to advance proven methods for decreasing the use of exclusionary discipline and addressing the root causes of the behavior.

These methods and interventions include: strategies for family engagement, increasing access to and collaboration with community mental health resources, professional development for school staff, and alternative in-school disciplinary practice, strategies, and interventions. We should use this influx of federal dollars to provide technical assistance and professional development to teachers and staff in the districts with the highest rates of suspension and calls to Mobile Crisis.

To support the school-community partnership approach, we need to invest in the Early Childhood Consultation Partnership (a consultation program for young children with mental health issues that also supports the teacher and whole classroom environment) and pilot an extension of this model to early elementary age in the districts where these children are most likely to be suspended. We should invest in school-based trauma-informed initiatives such as Bounce Back and CBITS, and school-community provider partnerships that offer case management and clinical support for high-needs children. Additionally, we need to bolster neighborhood assets and natural supports that strengthen the pool of diverse local resources in communities of color.

The time is ripe to address this urgent civil rights issue. Our students have faced so much adversity in the past year and need the consistency and support of their school communities now more than ever. As a recent national report conducted by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA summarizes:

Coming on the heels of a massive loss of instructional time, and of mental health and special education supports and services, we argue… that the data describing the high rates of lost instruction and the inequitable disparate impact of suspensions in these times of extreme stress should compel educators across the nation to do more, once students are allowed to return, to reduce disciplinary exclusion from school (iv).

We must first take a stand to ensure that our youngest learners can stay in school.

This piece is the combined effort of Kathryn Scheinberg Meyer, J.D., Center for Children’s Advocacy; Sarah Eagan, J.D., Office of the Child Advocate, and; State Rep. Robyn Porter of the 94th District.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of