Archive for Saturday, December 14, 2002

Kindergartners increasingly suspended for behavior

December 14, 2002


— One hit a pregnant teacher, another exposed himself and another stabbed a classmate with a pencil.

They've all been suspended from school this year. And they're all kindergartners.

In the first four months under new schools chief Paul Vallas, 33 kindergartners have been suspended from Philadelphia public schools, up from just one during the same period last year.

"The goal is to get the parents in," said Gwen Morris, who oversees alternative education for the 200,000-student district. "What it says is, we have a uniform policy that everyone will be held to."

The U.S. Department of Education does not break down school suspensions by grade level, but several researchers said they saw anecdotal evidence that the youngest schoolchildren were being suspended more frequently.

Morris believes suspensions, combined with counseling and other measures, are an effective tool in the city's crackdown on school violence. None of the kindergartners has been suspended a second time, she said.

"The time they spend at home together is clearly a time for them to figure out why this is happening," Morris said.

Walter Gilliam, a child psychologist at Yale University's Child Study Center, said he doubted young children made the connection between an action in school and the ensuing suspension.

Gilliam is studying suspensions in Connecticut, where 311 kindergartners were suspended in 1999-2000.

Gilliam said 79 percent of Connecticut's kindergarten suspensions went to boys, and about half involved allegations of physical violence, sexual harassment or verbal threats.

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