top of page

Green Bay, WI: #1 reason for preschool expulsion: BEHAVIOR; 60% are SPED

Aug 16, 2023, Green Bay Press Gazette: Wisconsin preschoolers are 5 times more likely to be expelled than K-12 students, but why?

When Rachael Van Domelen answers calls from her son’s child care center, she braces herself for uncomfortable conversations: apologies to another child’s parents, a sit-down with her 4-year-old or both.

One time, her son split open a teacher’s lip with a block. He hits other children or calls them names when he disagrees. His father, Mason Beaudry, called these episodes “explosive” and unpredictable.

“He’s so smart, it hurts. It makes things harder to navigate,” Van Domelen said. “If he's upset and wants to upset someone else around him, it does not take him very long to figure out how to do that.”

This intelligence is also evident in the 4-year-old’s endless curiosity. He loves nature; when he goes on walks, he turns over every rock to look at the bugs beneath. He even has a pet python named Kemosabe, an ode to the “Lone Ranger” character.

“He has a huge personality, and he absolutely will let you see every side of it,” she said. Both parents say they're lucky to have their son at Bridges Child Enrichment Center, which they feel strengthens his best qualities while focusing on specialized support….

But not all families are so fortunate. A 2005 nationwide study found children in state-funded prekindergarten programs — including school settings, child care programs and more — were three times likelier to be expelled than students in K-12 schools. In Wisconsin, that rate was more than five times higher.

There's no evidence the trend has improved, said Walter Gilliam, the researcher behind the 2005 study.

And behavioral issues, the No. 1 cause of early childhood expulsions in Wisconsin, are skyrocketing. According to a 2021 survey, more than half of Wisconsin early care and education professionals reported an increase in challenging behaviors, such as aggression and acting out. That's on par with national findings.

Aggressive behaviors drive many early childhood expulsions

Erika Brigham had less than a week to make alternative plans for her 4-year-old son when she learned his child care program in Rhinelander was expelling him.

Outside his child care program, he didn't show the aggressive behaviors the program expelled him for. At home, he spent much of his time playing with bubbles and experimenting with makeup. He behaved well at 4K, but when he was in child care, a different setting, things took a dramatic turn.

When the expulsion notice came, Brigham felt like she was experiencing déjà vu. Two years ago, when her older son was 6, his summer camp expelled him for similar aggressive behaviors….

Susan Steinhofer, an outreach navigator with the community organization First 5 Fox Valley, has spent decades working in the field, and has seen countless children act similarly to Brigham’s boys. …

It's tempting to associate a child's behavior with their character, but there's often more to the story

Jasmine Waldner operates Cedar Glade Family Learning Center out of her McFarland home. When a family came to her desperate to find care for their 2½-year-old son who had been expelled from a different program, Waldner didn’t think much of it. Her small program often allowed her to better care for kids with all kinds of behaviors, she said.

Waldner soon realized she was out of her depth.

In the six months under Waldner’s care, the child hit and bit, played with his feces and, once, dumped his urine all over the table, chairs and carpet.

Waldner was determined to work through the child’s behavioral challenges. She helped the parents sign on to the state Birth to 3 program, which serves as early intervention for children younger than 3 with developmental delays and disabilities. Soon, he had a team of specialists who worked with him in a separate room.

When the child rejoined the other children in the main play space, he immediately knocked a child to the ground.

Even though it might be hard to picture small children flipping furniture, tipping shelves and hurting adults, Bridges Executive Director Nicole Desten said these are fairly common behaviors for children who become severely dysregulated. That’s because they haven’t developed the language skills necessary to identify, explain and cope with difficult emotions. ... “There has always been a gap between school expectations and home (expectations) … but that gap has widened,” Desten said. “Now you have these children coming to school and child care that have had very little structure or few expectations. They don’t know how to communicate their needs and emotions or follow an established routine.”

In Waldner’s case, the child continued to communicate his challenges through aggression despite various intervention attempts. At pickups and drop offs, other parents would tell Waldner they were worried for their own children’s safety.

Ultimately, Waldner did what she hoped she’d never have to do: She gave the parents two weeks to find alternative child care for their son….

The 2005 study found Black preschoolers were twice as likely to be expelled than white preschoolers, and boys were more than four times as likely to be expelled than girls. When putting these facts together, the statistics looked particularly grim for Black boys.

Years later, these gender and racial disparities still exist….

Black boys aren’t the only ones bearing a disproportionate brunt of expulsions. According to a Civil Rights Data Collection Report, which tracked 2017-18 data, preschool children with disabilities made up 60% of all expulsions, despite an enrollment of nearly 23%.

Brigham knows of eight families with children who were expelled from the same child care center her sons attended. All had children with special needs, she said….

While Gilliam’s 2005 study showed the overall expulsion rate in preschool settings was three times that of K-12, the rate for child care centers specifically, such as privately owned and operated day cares, was 13 times that rate. …

Children expelled from early education are likely to struggle academically and beyond…

bottom of page