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Division-approved bill aims to reduce prekindergarten suspensions, expulsions

The House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Division revisited the topic of preschool discipline policies during a remote meeting Monday.

Students in preschool are three times more likely to be suspended then youth in grades K-12. Additionally, these dismissals disproportionally impact students with disabilities and students of color, Rep. Ruth Richardson (DFL-Mendota Heights) told the division at a previous hearing.

Sponsored by Richardson, HF1785as amended, would aim to change that by limiting the circumstances under which a school could expel or suspend a child from a school-based prekindergarten program.

It was approved by the division 6-4 along party lines. The companion, SF1874, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent (DFL-Woodbury), awaits action by the Senate E-12 Finance and Policy Committee.

Expulsions and exclusions could still be used as a last resort, when non-exclusionary discipline practices and interventions have been exhausted, and only in circumstances where there is an ongoing serious safety threat to the child or others.

Non-exclusionary interventions could include a written plan detailing action and support needed for the student to fully participate, referral to support services, or an evaluation to determine if the student is eligible for special education services. 

Positive interventions are more effective in helping young students learn to deal with their emotions, according to Maren Hulden, a staff attorney with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid. By removing a student from the classroom, they miss out on a learning opportunity, and therefore continue to repeat the same bad behaviors.

“Kids presenting really significant behaviors need support to build and strengthen the tools that they have to handle stress and other challenges, and suspending and expelling children actually does the opposite,” she said.

Opponents of the proposal, including Rep. Nolan West (R-Blaine), say educators should have the flexibility to remove a child from a program when they cause ongoing disruptions or pose a danger to themselves, others or property.

West unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would have allowed for the immediate dismissal of a student who engages in violent behavior, waiving the requirement that non-exclusionary interventions be utilized first.

“Nobody wants to expel or dismiss children, especially preschoolers,” West said. “But not allowing them to do that in cases of violent behavior, I have a lot of concerns with.”


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