Suspending Kindergarteners Sounds Extreme, but It’s More Complicated Than You Think
May 17, 2019

Hello! This is Mr. McGuire at Tindley Summit. How are you doing today? Sorry to bother but do you have a moment to talk about your scholar’s behavior today at school? Ok great! He has been sent down to the office twice today for not following directions. He was asked to sit in his seat and continued to get up. I know the teacher called earlier so you could speak to him, but the behavior did not change. This is the fourth time today he has been written up. He will be suspended tomorrow and the suspension letter will be sent home.

This is usually how the conversations go when we suspend scholars at our school. As you noticed, I explained what the scholar did, acknowledged that the parent was involved in trying to redirect, and then I ended with the consequence. Now, the part I left out was the mother’s response to everything I said.

Suspension conversations vary. Most parents listen and accept the suspension, but there are parents who inquire a little more about their child’s behavior. At that point, we typically let the scholar get on the phone so the parent can ask him/her those questions directly. Then, some parents will argue with you and swear their child was not misbehaving. Before reading on, ask yourself this question: “Was the consequence justified for the behavior that was described?”

Now, what if I said the scholar was in kindergarten? Does that change your perspective?

Should we suspend kindergarteners from school? I get asked this question a lot from parents, other educators, and community stakeholders. We do suspend kindergarteners at my school. We have a handbook that spells out behaviors and the consequences that follow those behaviors. We do not have a handbook that details consequences depending on the grade of the scholar. With discipline, there is some discretion that can be given by the person handling the discipline. There are times we will consider the age or grade of the scholars depending on the offense. In the above example, the scholar suspended was a kindergartener, and this really happened.

Here is why a suspension was given to that scholar. First, the scholar had been sent down to the office three times. The scholar had four infractions on their referral just from that day alone. Also, the scholar’s parent was called to try and redirect the behavior. Finally, after the fourth written infraction, the next step on my school’s consequence chart is a one-day suspension. We do not have ISS (in-school-suspension), so that’s not an option. We also do not believe in letting the scholar sit in the office all day because they cannot behave in school. Also, the parent turned down the option to come and pick up the scholar.

The question still hasn’t been answered on whether or not we should suspend kindergarten students from the school. Here is what I often hear:

  1. They are only five.
  2. How can you suspend a five-year-old from school?
  3. They are still learning how to behave.
  4. They are still developing, and they need to be in school.
  5. Suspension should not be the only form of punishment in school.
  6. How are they going to learn if they are not at school?
  7. Kindergarten isn’t even required in Indiana.

Here is how I respond to those concerns:

  1. Yes, I understand they are five; however, they have to follow the rules. If we let them get away with it at five what do you think will happen when they are six, seven, or even thirteen? Age should not make a difference in whether or not a student is suspended from school, especially if the rules of the school call for a suspension for the infraction.
  2. We suspend a kindergartener the same way we suspend a fifth grader. If we allowed for correction, involved the parent, and nothing changed, what else should we do when we don’t have ISS?
  3. Yes, they are still learning how to behave and a part of the learning how to behave is learning that negative behaviors have consequences.
  4. They are still developing and through that development, we will teach them the appropriate behaviors. We also provide structures to ensure they know what to expect and what they should and should not be doing. We will also offer corrections and a chance to make the right choice.
  5. The suspension is not the only form but is used as the last resort.
  6. Of course, they are not learning when they are in school, but if they are disrupting and not following directions what type of learning is happening while they are in school? Also, if the teacher is spending time correcting a student, is the teacher teaching, and are other students in the class learning?
  7. This is true; however, you chose to enroll your child in school.

I recently became a dad, so I ask myself, “What kind of parent I will be in five years when my daughter is in school?” Yes, I have a perspective being that I have been in education, but still I know it is different when it is your child. I can say that I will understand if the school has rules. I know our rules are strict and for some, they view them as petty; however, we believe the best way to provide the education that we promise is to hold ALL students accountable to the handbook regardless of the age. We will do our best to provide structures so that students at any age will understand what is expected of them.

At the end of every year, we evaluate our handbook and practices to ensure we are not excluding particular students from our school. We take account of many different factors when rolling out our handbook. Here is what I believe and will stand by as a leader, if a student, regardless of the age, is impeding the other students in the room from learning, then that student cannot be in the room. I will not apologize for that.

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