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In 2005, Yale researchers, led by Dr. Walter S. Gilliam, discovered that preschoolers were expelled at rates three times higher than their K-12 counterparts. In addition to being more likely to be expelled, expulsion rates mirrors that of incarceration in terms of racial discrimination. Furthermore, Dr. Gilliam and his team found that implicit teacher bias plays a large role in these disproportionate suspension and expulsion rates as children who possess “The 3 B’s of Expulsion Risk” — big, Black, and/or boy — were more likely to be suspended or expelled. High suspension and expulsion rates among young children are also the result of zero-tolerance policies, or catch-all suspension/expulsion categories such as “disobedient or disruptive behavior."
While this research was published 15 years ago, rates of expulsion in many states haven’t changed. In Ohio, the preschool expulsion rate is higher than the K-12 rate; annually, more than 36,000 children in Pre-K through third grade are expelled. In response, the Ohio Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 246, the Supporting Alternatives for Fair Education (SAFE) Act, and the Ohio House passed House Bill 318 which bans expulsion of Pre-K to third grade students who commit minor offenses starting in the 2021-2022 school year.
How much does implicit bias affect preschool expulsion? Will the new focus on trauma-informed practices help reduce expulsion and support the developmental, emotional, and psychosocial needs of young students? What else needs to be done?