Questions to Ask About Suspending Five Year-Olds

Is it ever okay to suspend a kindergartener — repeatedly? John Merrow’s recent PBS report showed that the Success Academy charter schools do this. But as this response from Success CEO Eva Moskowitz demonstrates, even little kids are capable of violent behavior that impacts other children’s ability to learn. Teachers reported that the boy in question punched, scratched, kicked, threw desks, and screamed.

My question is what, other than suspension, did Success try to help this troubled boy? Psychological counseling? A smaller class? Did this child have a special education evaluation and a behavioral intervention plan? There may be¬†privacy issues with revealing this information about this specific boy, but what, in general, is the practice at Success? If the boy in Moskowitz’s letter is indeed the same child who Merrow interviewed on camera, he seems to have grown into an articulate kid able to perform under the right circumstances.

These behavioral questions are some of the toughest in education and juvenile justice. They cut across charter schools, neighborhood schools, and private schools. If schools are going to follow the Obama administration’s guidelines to reduce suspensions, they need to have a set of alternative strategies in place, which should include support for teachers in how to do different kinds of discipline.