Ohio is poised to become the latest state to take steps to limit school suspensions and expulsions for the state’s youngest learners.
The state legislature has passed a bill that would ban the practices for students in pre-K to 3rd grade who commit minor offenses starting in the 2021-2022 school year. Expulsion would remain an option for students who commit certain acts of violence.
State Senate Education Chair Peggy Lehner introduced a bill last year that called for the ban. Her bill was made part of a House bill that was approved by both chambers of the legislature last month and is expected to be signed into law shortly by Gov. John Kasich, a Republican. The Dayton Daily News reported that the bill passed 71-20.
Lehner, a Republican, says she was “flabbergasted” when she found out that more than 30,000 children 8 and under had been suspended in Ohio in 2015.
She says she started looking into the issue when she was trying to find out why so many students in the state weren’t reading at or above grade level by 3rd grade. At first, she says, she thought lack of high quality early-childhood education was to blame, and then she found out about the number of young children being kicked out of class.
“The kids who are being suspended are the same kids who are really struggling,” said Lehner. “They’re kids from poverty, kids with multiple ACEs,” or adverse childhood experiences, the term used for stressful or traumatic events that can affect students behavior and learning.
And Lehner stresses that the vast majority of the suspensions were for minor offenses.
“Mostly for things like not sitting still in a chair, being disruptive in the classroom, shouting out answers, pushing, shoving, biting, which do not rise to the level of violence that would permit a suspension,” she said. “We’re limiting that to serious threat to the health and well-being of other students or teachers in the classroom.”
The bill also requires schools to train some staff members on positive behavior interventions and supports, or PBIS, which may help teachers and administrators understand why a student is misbehaving.
“By taking away a tool that they currently have—suspension—and replacing it with something that we know works better, hopefully it’s [going to] result in a change of culture in our schools, and we’re going to see kids having their real needs met,” said Lehner.
Ohio would join several other states that have taken steps to cut down the number of suspensions and expulsions for early learners including Maryland, Tennessee, and Virginia.
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.