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Suspension and Expulsion in Early Education

Training Module

Learn about the summary of suspension and expulsion from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of EducationĀ in thisĀ 2-hour training.

Suspension and Expulsion in Early Education Settings

We continue to get an large amount of phone call, emails and questions from providers about behaviors. Even after attending a six hour workshop full of information, tips and techniques with us, participants will come up after class and ask, "But what do I do?" Providers and caregiver are quick to give up on children and want them "kicked out" of the program.

We live in a world of instant gratification. Smart phones and streaming services allow us to watch what we want, when we want it. Even online ordering gets us closer to satisfying our instant needs. When it comes to behavior, there is no smart phone app or streaming service that instantly and magically "fix" the child and/or situation. I can't tell you the number of times I have heard, "I tried that and it didn't work" or "We did that for a while". 

 The only way to meet these children's needs is commitment and time. 

Below is a summary of expulsion and suspension from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and The U.S. Department of Education. Following this summary you will find techniques to avoid expulsion and when needed, the proper way to handle these difficult situations.

The beginning years of any child's life are critical for building the early foundation of learning, health and wellness needed for success in school and later in life. During these years, children's brains are developing rapidly, influenced by the experiences, both positive and negative, that they share with their families, caregivers, teachers, peers and communities. A child's early years set the trajectory for the relationships and successes they will experience for the rest of their lives, making it crucial that children's earliest experiences truly foster, and never harm, their development. As such, expulsion and suspension practices in early education programs, two stressful and negative experiences young children and their families may encounter in early education programs, should be prevented, severely limited, and eventually eliminated. High quality early education programs provide the positive experiences that nurture positive learning and development.

Suspension and expulsion can influence a number of adverse outcomes across developmental, health and education. Young students who are expelled or suspended are as much as 10 times more likely to drop out of high school, experience academic failure and grade retention, hold negative school attitudes, and face incarceration than those who are not. While much of this research has focused on expulsion or suspension in elementary, middle, and high school settings, there is evidence that expulsion or suspension early in a child's education is associated with expulsion or suspension in later school grades.

Not only do these practices have the potential to hinder social-emotional and behavioral development, they also remove children from early education environments and the corresponding cognitively enriching experiences that contribute to healthy development and academic success later in life. Expulsion and suspension practices may also delay or interfere with the process of identifying and addressing underlying issues, which may include disabilities or mental health issues. Some of these children may have undiagnosed disabilities or behavioral health issues and may be eligible for additional services, but in simply being expelled, they may not receive the evaluations or referrals they need to obtain services. For example, the source of challenging behavior may be communication and language difficulties, skills that can be improved through early assessment and intervention services. In these cases, appropriate evaluation and follow-services are critical, but less likely if the child is expelled from the system. Finally, expulsions may contribute to increased family stress and burden. In many cases, families of children who are expelled do not receive assistance in identifying an alternate placement, leaving the burden of finding another program entirely to the family. There may be challenges accessing another program, particularly an affordable high-quality program. Even in cases where assistance is offered, often there is a lapse in service which leaves families, especially working families, in difficult situations. 

Furthermore, if administered in a discriminatory manner, suspensions and expulsions of children may violate Federal civil rights laws. ED and the Department of Justice recently issued guidance explaining the obligation of recipients of Federal financial assistance to administer student discipline without regard to race, color, or national origin. In addition, early education programs must comply with applicable legal requirements governing the discipline of a child for misconduct caused by, or related to, a child's disability, including, as applicable, implementing reasonable modifications to policies, practices, or procedures to ensure that children with disabilities are not suspended or expelled because of their disability related behaviors unless a program can demonstrate that making such modifications would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of services, program, and activity. If the child's behavior impedes  the child's learning, or that of others, the IEP team must consider behavioral intervention strategies, including the use of positive behavioral interventions and support when developing the initial IEP, or modifying and existing IEP, so as to reduce the need for discipline of a child with disabilities aged three through five who are eligible for services under the IDEA are entitled to the same disciplinary protections that apply to all other IDEA eligible children with disabilities, and may not be subjected to impermissible disciplinary changes of placement for misconduct that is caused by or related to their disability, and must continue to receive educational services consistent with their right to a free appropriate public education under IDEA. 

Data released over the past decade have shown high rates of expulsion and suspension in early education programs, with variability in rate depending on the setting. For example, a nationally representative study published in 2005 found that over 10% of preschool teachers in state-funded prekindergarten programs reported expelling at least one preschooler in the past year: a rate more than three times higher than estimates for teachers of K-12 public school students. A 2006 study examined expulsion in child care programs not participating in a State prekindergarten system, in one State. In these settings, 39% of preschool teachers reported expelling a child in the past year. Experts have suggested that rates are high because early education is voluntary, many programs do not have established policies, and often these programs have less infrastructure and workforce support than do public schools or more structured early education programs, like Head Start. This suggest that established policies and investments in supports for programs may help reduce these rates. 

Data also indicates that specific groups of children are being disproportionately expelled and suspended from their early education settings, a trend that has remained virtually unchanged over the past decade. Recent data out of ED indicates that African-American boys make up 18% of preschool enrollment, but 48% of preschoolers suspended more than once. Hispanic and African-American boys combined represent 46% of all boys in preschool, but 66% of their same-age peers who are suspended. Analyses of boys, compared to girls, indicate that they make up 79% of preschoolers suspended once, and 82% of preschoolers suspended multiple times. Although why these gender and racial disparities exist in early education settings has not yet been empirically investigated, research demonstrating similar disparities in school-age children has found that potential contributors may include uneven or biased implementation of disciplinary policies, discriminatory discipline practices, school racial climates, and under-resourced, inadequate education and training for teachers, especially in self-reflective strategies to identify and correct biases in perceptions and practice. 

To that end, ensuring that the early education workforce is adequately trained, supported, and prepared to help all children excel is a key strategy in limiting and eventually eliminating early expulsion and suspension. Unfortunately, many teachers and providers do not have sufficient training and support to meet this goal. The 2012 National Survey of Early Care and Education indicates that only about 20% of teachers and providers serving children under five reported receiving specific training on facilitating children's social and emotional growth in the past year. Other studies have found that early education teachers report that coping with challenging behavior is their most pressing training need. Aside from not having adequate support in fostering social-emotional development and appropriately responding to challenging behavior, without enough training in child development, it may be difficult to distinguish behaviors that are inappropriate from those that are developmentally age appropriate. Early education experts posit that developmentally inappropriate behavioral expectations may lead to inappropriate labeling of child behavior as challenging or problematic. Furthermore, teachers must also be trained to recognized behaviors that may be a manifestation of a child's disability. This training is essential to ensure that children with disabilities receive reasonable modifications for their disabilities and are not impermissible suspended or expelled for behaviors caused by disabilities. 

Early suspension, expulsion, and other exclusionary discipline practices contribute to setting many young children's educational trajectories in a negative direction from the beginning. This has long term consequences for children, their families, and the schools that they will later attend. More broadly, there societal consequences of setting children on a negative path, including exacerbating inequality. Resolving this issue will require an all-hands on deck approach and a shared responsibility between families, programs, and governments at all levels. The most important steps programs, schools and States can take in preventing, severely limiting, and ultimately eliminating expulsion and suspension practices in early education settings are combining developmentally appropriate and nondiscriminatory discipline procedures and policies, with targeted workforce professional development focused on promoting the social emotional and behavioral health of all children and enhancing teacher and provider self-reflective capacity to prevent biases in practice.     

How to Support Children with Aggression 

Negativity and aggression are commonly seen in early education programs, and in everyday life. Early educators must realize how important they are in influencing behavior. Teaching children active calming and to understand their own range of emotions is one small step in building a healthy self-esteem. Below are empowering tips to help understand and end aggression and negativity in both adults and children.

It's all about attitude

Every child and adult has experiences as they go through life. Experiences are then stored in the lower/back part of the brain where they sit, just waiting to be released as a behavior. When adrenal glands kick in, your brain down shifts and data stored comes out. How do you control these negative experiences? It's simple, it's all about attitude. Maintaining a positive attitude when situations hit you keeps your brain in the executive state, preventing you from saying or doing things that are aggressive and negative. Keep this simple formula handy throughout the day...

Incident + Attitude = Outcome

Maintaining a positive attitude also makes you healthier, more successful, and more likable, 

Three Rules 

There are three important rules when working with an aggressive or negative person.

Rule #1 It's not about you!"You're making me angry", "Look what you're making me do", "You make me so sad when you misbehave" These are all common responses to negativity and aggression. When you say these things, you are giving away your power. You are letting the aggressor know that they have control over you. You must unhook yourself and not take attacks personal. The aggressor is trying to get your attention because they have a need not being met.

Rule #2 Spend time with the aggressor

Relationships are the key to success when working with negativity. Relationships are the first survival skill learned by humans. Five minutes of focused, one-on-one time with someone reduces power struggles by 50%. When spending time with the aggressor, do not talk about the issues at hand. Spend quality time building a positive relationship. Focus on the desired behavior, rather than the negative behavior. Remember, the aggressor will try to bring you down. Your positive attitude must be stronger than their negativity.

Rule #3 Empower the Victim

Anytime you have an aggressive act, always take care of the victim first, aggressor second. Most aggressors act out to get attention. They have to learn the appropriate way to get what they want. Once the victim receives first aid, empower the victim to express how they feel and that they do not like the behavior. The aggressor needs to hear from the victim, not from a person who did not feel the hurt.

Tips on Aggression and Negativity

No person can make you angry without your permission

Don't get emotionally hijacked. You are in control. When people or situations try to make you angry, you must not allow it. Your positive mood is stronger than any person or situation.

The motivation to be positive comes from being in a relationship

People are born to be pleasers. The need for relationship is essential to development. Relationships build trust, respect and love. When people are in a positive relationship with each other, the willingness to cooperate is greater than defiance.

You are either calling for love or showing love

In every relationship, communication has a giver and a receiver. Or in other words, you are either calling or asking for love, or giving or showing love. Don't look at behavior as disrespectful. Look at behavior as a calling. You can make a difference in every negative situation.

Every aggressive act is a call for help

Aggressors needs three things: Boundaries, nurturing and quality time. When you experience a negative act, you must first empower yourself verbally. Letting the aggressor know what they can and cannot do to you. Show empathy for their actions. Recognize that they are needing something that is missing in their life. Be there for the aggressor. Don't lecture or preach, simple be in their presence.

There are no "bad" people

There are no "good" people. There are simply people. People who have a need that is not being met. Avoid stereotyping and labeling adults and children who are calling for love.

People can only meet the needs of other people when their own needs have been met

Sometimes we expect children and adults to automatically "know" what is right and wrong. When individuals do not have the skills needed, traditional consequences do not work. Work with aggressors on life skills needed to cooperate, love and care. People will commit aggressive acts so that others will feel what they feel. We all have unmet needs. Recognize that the aggressor also has unmet needs. Be there for that person rather than pushing them away.

All aggression stems from the perceived experience of excessive pain.

We all have our own version of reality. Our experiences create the reality we live in. Showing and understanding empathy will help you put yourself in other people's shoes. Pain is not only physical, but also emotional. There is no "cookie cutter" approach to human development. Every individual develops different needs that may or may not have been met.

Aggressive acts are normally seen through actions. But to understand aggressive acts, one must understand the factor that creates the pain. Triggers that immediately create high emotions sits inside all of us. Even most aggressors do not know or understand their triggers.

Rather than treat people as if they are different and need a label, we should understand the love and nurturing needed by this person. They may be different than you, and their needs may be different. We should not judge someone who has unmet needs or needs that do not match your own.

Be part of the solution. Not part of the problem. 

Sample Policy on Suspension and Expulsion

 Courtesy of Ronald McGuckin and Associates

Smith Early Care and Education is proud of our history of working with the individual needs of our children and will work with the parents whose children may need additional support. When applicable, we will make referrals to outside support services including but limited to, early intervention, speech, occupations, and physical therapy and other types of services, and participate in IEP (Individual Education Plan) meetings where appropriate the best meet the needs of students. 

Smith Early Care and Education will make reasonable accommodations to their policies, practices and procedures as appropriate in accordance with applicable federal and state laws. Smith Early Care and Education is not required by law to fundamentally alter or change the services provided for a child displaying dangerous/inappropriate behavior, developmental delays and/or disabilities as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Smith Early Care and Education will allow outside resources/therapists into the program to work with any child as needed, provided those services are communicated in advance, the provider of the services has the appropriate clearances to be in the building, the behavioral/therapeutic plan is shared with the administration and the resource/therapist works cooperatively with Smith Early Care and Education staff to meet the needs of the child. Presence of the resource/therapist must mitigate any and all safety risks the child presents to themselves and to others and must be collaborative and complimentary to the program. Should the resource/therapist be disruptive to the program or not have authority or ability to mitigate, through appropriate therapeutic methods, the child's dangerous behaviors, the child may be excluded from the program. 

Any child who is a safety threat to themselves or to others will be subject to suspension/exclusion and/or disenrollment from the program if the dangerous behavior cannot be eliminated through reasonable accommodations provided for under applicable federal and state laws and regulations. Temporary suspension from the school may be necessary for the safety of the child and others while any appropriate evaluations are completed and/or while securing the appropriate support services from the appropriate agency.

Smith Early Care and Education will at all times provide written documentation to the parents of any child that is subject to referral for outside support services for any behavior, developmental delay or disability. Further, through formal and informal conferences with the teachers and administrators, written incident and accident reports and letters, Smith Early Care and Education will communicate with parents/guardians of children exhibiting behaviors that are dangerous to themselves or to others, the steps taken to accommodate the child and notifications that the child will not be able to return to the program until support services are in place.


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