Let's say a kindergarten or first-grade student is behaving badly in class, really raising a ruckus.
Leaving the child in class is a bad idea — it's depriving the other kids of the chance to learn. But suspending the youngster from school is also a bad idea, for a number of reasons.
How to resolve this dilemma was thrust on the front burner this past week with the release of data from the state Department of Education showing that 998 children 6 years old or younger were involved in 1,967 suspension incidents — in-school and out-of-school — in the 2011-12 school year.
This is troubling.
A child who is not in class risks falling behind. Young children with problem behaviors are often acting out in response to troubles at home or because of an undetected disability that is impairing learning, said Jamey Bell, the state's Child Advocate. If a child is simply sent home, the disability will continue undetected. A child who has not reached the age of reason — 7 or 8 — may not even understand that the suspension is a penalty.
Finally, the penalty is not being evenly applied. The vast majority of youngsters who are suspended are from schools in the state's larger cities, where many families are struggling.
Lest we forget, teachers have been kicked, punched, spit at and stabbed with pencils by out-of-control children, a not-pretty sight.
If there were a simple solution to this problem, it would be solved. It needs to be approached from several angles (as some schools do). One place to start, suggests state Sen. Beth Bye, an expert in early childhood education, is to make sure the curriculum isn't part of the problem, that it is appropriate to the children's level of development. For example, she asked, do the children have enough time to play?
"Go back and study child development," she said.
Also, preschool can help, as can parental meetings and home visits. As important, schools need the resources to provide the diagnostic and other in-school services children require. But suspensions, particularly of very young children, smack of failure, giving up, lack of imagination, throwing in the towel.
A child who is suspended can be stigmatized as a troublemaker. A principal who resorts to frequent suspensions should be stigmatized as a bad manager.