Inspired by a Washington Post story that highlighted the fact that 250 preschoolers are suspended or expelled every day, State Representative Reginald Bolding is hoping to outlaw the practice in Arizona.
"We’ve had these zero-tolerance policies that have gotten a little out of control, and when you have students who grew up in poverty and who may have had adverse childhood experiences, they really don’t work," the Laveen Democrat told Phoenix New Times. "We’re talking about kids who are barely out of diapers, and many of them are just mimicking the environment they grew up in."
House Bill 2018, which Bolding introduced, would prevent schools from suspending or expelling students in pre-K through second grade, unless they present an imminent danger to staff members or other students. Similar bills were introduced in Ohio, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, and Louisiana last year.
Compared to other states such as Florida, Arizona's elementary school suspension rate isn't terrible. But data analysis performed by the ACLU of Arizona's #Demand2Learn campaign, which focuses on school discipline, found that students of color in Maricopa County are disproportionately more likely to be suspended.
Because preschool isn't mandatory, administrators have much more discretion when it comes to expelling students, Bolding noted. Often, there won't be a formal expulsion. Instead, parents will be counseled that the preschool may not be the right place for their child, which ultimately has the effect of pushing students out.
"If they’re lucky, they find another preschool during the middle of the year that has opening to take that child," he said. "If not, preschool typically becomes spending the day at a family member’s house, watching television. It may even lead parents to miss work — and that can lead to unemployment."
Bolding said that he'll likely be introducing an amendment to the bill, which will clarify what kinds of preschools it applies to. Most likely, private preschools wouldn't be affected, but preschools that receive funding or subsidies from the Department of Economic Security or other state programs would have to comply with the law.
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So what are teachers and principals supposed to do about students who act up?
Bolding suggests moving to a restorative-justice model and focusing on preventative measures such as making sure that troubled students have individualized learning and behavior plans in place, and providing referrals to counseling services.
The bill doesn't come with a request for funding that would cover those services. Bolding says that his goal is to have school districts take a look at the policies that they have in place while Democrats in the House and Senate push for more money to be directed to early childhood education.
"We can’t have another generation of kids pushed out of our schools just because the dollars aren’t in the bank right now," he said.