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NBC News asks why so many special needs preschoolers are suspended/expelled

Aug 3, 2019, NBC News: Kicking kids out of preschool is damaging, experts say. So why is it still happening? Despite laws cracking down on preschool expulsions, thousands of young children a year are put out of school. In Houston, Emma Tsai’s rambunctious 3-year-old son was kicked out of four preschools near his home – including one that expelled him after just a few hours for jumping around and ignoring safety precautions. In New York City, Debra Sinclair said she felt lost and alone when a few incidents of kicking and biting got her son forced out of a preschool in Queens. And in Chicago, Mina Marien said her 3-year-old son was distressed when one preschool, then another, pushed him out for biting, shoving and, in one case, hitting another child with a rolling pin. “He was telling me he was bad,” Marien said. “He couldn’t control his impulses and felt bad about himself afterwards.” There’s nothing new about tiny troublemakers being pushed out of preschools. A 2016 federal study found that an estimated 50,000 preschoolers had been suspended in the previous year and 17,000 were expelled. But Tsai, Sinclair and Marien all live in cities or states that have taken steps to reduce suspensions and expulsions, in response to research showing that young children who are booted from preschool face a slew of social, emotional and academic consequences. That their sons were kicked out anyway shows that while some strides have been made to change the way schools respond to challenging children, the patchwork of state and local policies is spotty. Even in states that have passed laws largely banning the practice, advocates say, many teachers lack the additional training and support they need to prevent dangerous behaviors and to keep all children safe in school. … “I don’t understand what parents are supposed to do,” Sinclair said, noting that her son, who is now almost 6, had sensory processing issues and post-traumatic stress disorder from witnessing violence in his home. The private program her son attended when he was 3 wasn’t subject to New York City’s preschool expulsion ban because it didn’t take city money. When the school kicked him out, Sinclair said she was offered no alternatives. … An expulsion can also throw parents’ lives into turmoil, forcing them to miss work as they search for resources to support a struggling child. In 2014, President Barack Obama’s health and education secretaries rang the alarm over preschool suspensions and expulsions with a joint statement that “strongly encouraged” states to adopt policies “to promote children’s social-emotional and behavioral health and eliminate or severely limit” the practice. More than two dozen states and cities heeded that call, passing new laws and regulations. At least 10 states have largely banned suspensions or expulsions for preschoolers and other young children. Additionally, as of 2014, all states that accept federal child care dollars must create plans to reduce the practice. And, in 2016, the federally funded Head Start program prohibited its centers across the country from removing kids. … A recent study found that more than 1 in 3 Illinois preschools contacted by researchers had expelled at least one child since the law took effect. Some schools said they didn’t know about the law, while others seemed confused by it, said Kate Zinsser, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who led the study…. Emma Tsai’s son, who turned 4 this week, is a happy and affectionate boy who likes to run and dance, she said, but a speech delay and hyperactivity have contributed to challenging behaviors. “It’s hard for him to sit and focus,” she said. … Many early childhood educators have little more than a high school education. Few have had specialized training in how to support the social and emotional needs of children, or in working with children who have experienced trauma. They might have overcrowded classrooms, which can lead to teacher job stress that research has found is a significant factor in expulsion decisions.


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