In November 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a new law prohibiting state preschools from expelling students without first following a mandated process to support troubled preschoolers and their families. Previous to the new law being passed, children could be expelled from preschool for exhibiting any aggressive behaviors, such as biting and kicking, which threatened the safety of other students and teachers. Students could even be expelled for verbal outbursts and disruptions in the school such as screaming or shouting.
According to the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health, which was conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau last year, nearly 17,000 preschoolers were expelled in the U.S. in 2016, with 50,000 preschoolers being suspended at least once that year.
The move to end expulsions in preschools follows on the heels of similar action taken in the state’s public K-12 schools, which have been actively working in recent years to reduce the amount of suspensions and expulsions that occur in the system. The focus of this new initiative has been to encourage educators to search for alternative methods of dealing with disciplinary problems in school.
The new law, known as Assembly Bill 752, only applies to state preschools, and will require the schools to use intervention methods and referrals to remedy problematic behavior before a decision is made to expel a child from preschool. The interventions can include such steps as doing an evaluation of the child’s social and emotional development to ensure that there are no developmental issues and crafting a plan to tackle unwanted behavior. Should these interventions fail to resolve the bad behavior, the preschool will be required to assist with finding an alternative school placement for the child.
However, this new movement is not exclusive to the state of California, but rather, it follows a national pattern of educators taking steps to reduce school suspensions and expulsions for disciplinary matters. Advocates for this change have long asserted that suspensions and expulsions from preschool can damage a child’s self-esteem and set the student back academically. They also claim that it increases the likelihood that the child will run into similar disciplinary problems in later years if they are not addressed early on, which may even lead to them dropping out of school.
Advocates for the change are also disturbed by data which shows that the practice of expelling and suspending students tends to disproportionately affect minorities, particularly African-American boys as well as Latino children.
The new law will also attempt to streamline disciplinary actions in preschools. Since preschool is voluntarily attended by students, disciplinary measures are often carried out informally. Some critics of the current system have raised concerns that parents are often subjected to subtle pressure to withdraw their child from preschool if there are any behavioral problems, while administrators are given the power to determine whether a child is a good fit for a particular preschool program. By ensuring that preschools must adopt intervention methods before removing a child, the new law aims to ensure greater fairness in the process.
However, many critics of Assembly Bill 752 as well as some preschool educators have noted that the law does not provide funding to help preschools address problematic behavior. This is contrary to steps taken in other states, such as Connecticut and Ohio, who have provided funding to assist in tackling problem behaviors in children who may have otherwise been expelled.
The California Department of Education has stated that various national experts who have been contracted to the Early Education and Support Division will commence discussions before the end of the year to set out a list of best practices which will shape the state’s new policies.