Examining Explusion in Early Childhood Education


close-up portrait of a very angry screaming boy

Imagine a preschool classroom. Our ideal student is energetic, rambunctious, and curious. It is not the child who never challenges and certainly not the child who never questions.  As early childhood educators, we know that one of the biggest responsibilities we have is to help our young students communicate, explore, and sort the world out.

What happens when a child is struggling?  I don’t mean the occasional temper tantrum or the sad/mad days.

What happens when a child has so much difficulty adjusting to the classroom that they pose a risk of physical and emotional harm to everyone around them?

Imagine an in home family daycare.  In our state, this is one instructor to twelve children.  For one child it is her second day.  It is time for projects and the child screams, “No!” and starts using profanity.  The instructor calmly tells the child it is all right if she doesn’t want to participate, and that it is ok to be upset, but that she must use her inside voice.  The child screams, “I DON’T WANT TO!” swears more, and runs through the house.  She pushes another child. The instructor reaches for the upset child, and puts her in her lap in a hugging position (state approved) to prevent her from hurting herself or others.  The child kicks and screams.  The other children are frightened (and also baffled as to why the other young lady is reacting this way to their beloved teacher).She spits on her teacher. She kicks her in the face.  All the while the instructor tries every tool in her mind to try to help her student.  She tries talking to her, she tries not talking. At this point the teacher has her phone at the ready to call the child’s parents.  She tells her, “I can see that you are upset.  You can make a choice.  You may stop screaming and join us for projects, or you may stop screaming and do a quiet activity at another table, which do you prefer?”  The student screams louder, and kicks the teacher’s phone out of her hand.

Imagine a large downtown center.  A five year old student who has had disciplinary action plans throughout his preschool years screams at his teacher, hits her, and runs away.  He runs out of the classroom, out of the building, and straight into the busy intersection, all in the blink of an eye.

There is a serious problem in our classrooms and it needs to be addressed.

Expulsion is the harshest disciplinary action a school can take against a student. It means the student is no longer allowed to attend the school. A study, conducted by the Yale University Child Study Center, showed the rate is 3.2 times higher than the national expulsion rate (2.1 expulsions per 1,000 enrolled students) for kids in grades K-12.  While the study did not describe the reasons for pre-K expulsions, researchers say they are primarily due to serious behavioral problems.

Nearly seven out of every 1,000 pre-kindergarteners are expelled each year – an estimated 5,117 preschoolers in all.

Expulsion rates are higher for pre-kindergartners than for students in grades K-12 in all but three states: Kentucky,South Carolina and Louisiana.

Four-year-olds are expelled 1.5 times more than 3-year-olds; boys are expelled 4.5 times more than girls; and African-Americans are twice as likely to be expelled as Latino and Caucasian kids and more than five times as likely than Asian-American kids.

It is clear that expulsion rates in early childhood education settings are disproportionate with the rest of K-12 education.

The question is, how do we fix it?

The government is already working on possible solutions.

A clearly defined expulsion policy

Many of us are aware of the new requirements for the Federal Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014. For those who are unfamiliar with this new law, there are a myriad of positive changes in what is required for child care centers in the United States.  This new act gives me plenty of fodder for blog posts!  One of the new requirements is that licensed care facilities have a written plan for how to handle expulsion in their programs.

New federal guidelines are great, but how does that translate for providers?

The South Dakota Department of Social Services division of child care licensing has not yet put out their specific guidelines for our new expulsion policies.  Experts agree that any expulsion policy should be clearly defined.

Criteria to outline are:

Disciplinary policies for the early childhood education setting

Child behaviors that are cause for expulsion (both immediate expulsion and disciplinary action plans to avoid expulsion).  Immediate cause for expulsion might include extreme violence, while disciplinary action might include a severe temper tantrum.

Parent behaviors that are cause for expulsion (both immediate expulsion and disciplinary action plans to avoid expulsion).  Immediate cause for expulsion might include physical abuse of parent to a staff member, while disciplinary action might include late payments.

Written documentation of all events

Written procedure such as, first incident is a call to the parents, second incident is meeting with parents for action plan which may or may not include referral to a behavioral specialist.  If expulsion is the ultimate decision, then the parent will be given ample time to secure other care, unless in an extreme case where a child or parent poses eminent serious harm to themselves or others, or refusal to make payment arrangements.

 Professional help nearby

The study also shows expulsion rates are lowest in pre-K classrooms in public schools and in Head Start programs, and highest in faith-based and other private preschool programs, the researchers note. They attribute the lower rates to the presence of a school psychologist or psychiatrist who can handle serious behavior problems. Expulsions occurred twice as much in classrooms where there was no access to these professionals.

In Rapid City there are several options for behavioral health specialists to observe your classroom and students and offer intervention.  Contact the South Dakota Department of Social Services for a complete list of the help available in your area.

More training for parents and early childhood educators 

There are many classes available online and from local early childhood education facilities that offer behavior management courses.  Some I recommend are Safeguard Classes Online, Early Childhood Connections, Better Kid Care, and Sanford Health.

Consider becoming a member of a local professional child care association, which also offer additional training and conference opportunities, such as the South Dakota Association for the Education of Young Children and the Family Child Care Professionals of South Dakota.

In the comment area, please share your feedback!

  1. What are some of the experiences you or others you know have had with early childhood education expulsion?
  2. What are some of the resources you have found helpful in avoiding expulsion?
  3. Please share any other additional insight and opinions on this subject!

For additional food for thought:

Read this article by Walter Gilliam Implementing Policies to Reduce the Likelihood of Preschool Expulsion

View this video by Becky Bailey Are Children Safe in Preschool.



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