Confronting Suspensions and Expulsions in Early Childhood
October 26, 2020
Police violence against Black people in the United States has sparked a nationwide reckoning with the country’s history of racism and the present-day structures that perpetuate oppression. The criminalization of Black men, women, and children is a through-line, beginning with the construction of race and continuing to the present, manifesting as the school-to-prison pipeline. Tragically, this pipeline starts as children are only learning to walk and talk.
Preschool suspensions contribute to the loss of vital school time; impact children’s self-worth by sending the message that they are not wanted; deny young children access to the very services that can assist their social-emotional development; and feed the preschool to prison pipeline.
Dr. Ebonyse Mead
Early childhood care in north carolina
In North Carolina, Black children make up 47 percent of suspensions and expulsions in publicly funded pre-kindergarten classrooms, despite making up a much smaller percentage of total students. Nationally, the Center for American Progress found that Black children are 2.2 times more likely to be suspended or expelled than other children. Anecdotally, we know that toddlers are also suspended and expelled, but since child care is a largely private enterprise, there are no data sets documenting the extent of this problem at that age group.
Dr. Ebonyse Mead, president of the Educational Equity Institute, describes the impact of this phenomenon on young children, “Preschool suspensions contribute to the loss of vital school time; impact children’s self-worth by sending the message that they are not wanted; deny young children access to the very services that can assist their social-emotional development; and feed the preschool to prison pipeline.”
The Root of Inequities in Early Childhood Care and Education
In August, the Charlotte chapter of the Black Child Development Institute, the Educational Equity Institute, and the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project convened educators, advocates, academics, and others for the Early Childhood Suspension and Expulsion Summit to discuss this issue. I was fortunate to attend this summit and a subsequent meeting where we explored the root causes of suspensions and expulsions; their impact on children and families; and what might be done to change course.
Many specific issues came up in the course of our conversation:
- The need to address implicit bias in early child care
- Improving early childhood teacher training and compensation
- Reassessing the definition of “quality” in a child care setting
- Increasing the resources available for child care; and much more.
While these are all important strategies to consider, it was clear that they address symptoms of a fundamentally inequitable system. Simply put, our early care and education system was not created to meet the needs of Black children and families (or Latino and American Indian families, for that matter).
The Way Forward
With this shared understanding, the group has pivoted and broadened its focus from suspensions and expulsions-only to considering what it will take to transform our entire early care and education system to be truly equitable and in service of North Carolina’s diverse population. This transformation is a long-term endeavor that demands deep community engagement to center the experiences and needs of Black and brown children and families. At the Blue Cross NC Foundation, we are excited to support and stand with community leaders as we work to ensure all children get the strong start they need to thrive in childhood and beyond.
- National Black Child Development Institute: Delivering on the Promise of Effective Early Childhood Education
- Yale Child Study Center: Preschool Implicit Bias Policy Brief
- North Carolina Division of Child Development and Early Education: Early Childhood Suspension and Expulsion Policy
- Jordan Institute for Families: Preschool Suspensions and Expulsions - Time for Change
About the Author
Rob Thompson is the Director, Early Childhood for the Blue Cross NC Foundation. Read bio.