School Climate & Safety Letter to the Editor

Early-Childhood Suspensions Hurt Children in Distress

May 19, 2014 1 min read
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To the Editor:

A recent evening news program on public television carried a report on the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights and a litany of racial disparities in education. This report was also covered to a lesser extent in Education Week, first in “U.S. Comes Up Short on Education Equity, Federal Data Indicate” and then in “Pre-K Suspension Data Shines Spotlight on Interventions.” The PBS segment and latter Education Week article focus heavily on suspension data for 4- and 5-year-olds.

Suspending pre-K and kindergarten pupils seems unthinkable to me. Most importantly, it indicates their early-childhood teachers are totally unaware of the root causes of unacceptable behaviors. Research shows that acting-out behaviors are an expression of stress and anxiety that may result from early brain changes due to weak attachments and a lack of security. These brain alterations greatly diminish the neural development of self-regulation skills and can easily result in automatic fight-or-flight reactions to perceived threats and fears.

To make certain that standard disciplinary policies do not unintentionally set the foundation for “school to prison” pipelines, teachers need to be informed of neurobiology and how to establish emotionally secure relationships with students that respect their toxic stress. Standard disciplinary actions do not strengthen self-regulation skills in distressed children; instead they exacerbate student anxiety and make learning less likely.

Children who have experienced trauma require developmentally appropriate early-childhood education that meets their learning and behavioral needs and incorporates trauma-informed practices.

Barbara Oehlberg

Education and Child Trauma Consultant

Solon, Ohio

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A version of this article appeared in the May 21, 2014 edition of Education Week as Early-Childhood Suspensions Hurt Children in Distress


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