Losen said it's appropriate to discipline a 4-year-old, but a more appropriate response might be moving them to a different educational setting with additional services.
"Most preschool kids want to be in school," Losen said. "Kids just don't understand why they can't go to school."
Kimbrelle Lewis, principal of Raleigh-Bartlett Meadows Elementary School in Memphis, said she's never suspended a child in her school's preschool program and would only consider it in an "extreme circumstance." She said her district provides behavior specialists and other services to children with discipline problems so strategies can be worked out with teachers and parents if preschoolers need additional support.
If there are racial disparities among preschoolers disciplined, "I do think it's something to look at. I think it's a conversation to have," said Lewis, who served on a committee with the National Association of Elementary School Principals looking at issues affecting younger school children.
Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the National Education Association teachers' union, said in a statement that the findings show that "too many children don't have equitable access to experienced and fully licensed teachers."
"The inequities detailed in this report have been caused, at least in part, by policies that disregard the professionalism of teaching and create a revolving door of under-prepared and under-supported novices who leave before they've reached the levels of mastery required to truly make a difference," Van Roekel said.
Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a think tank that specializes in social issues affecting minority communities, said the findings didn't surprise her.
"I think most people would be shocked that those numbers would be true in preschool, because we think of 4- and 5-year-olds as being innocent," she said. "But we do know that schools are using zero tolerance policies for our youngest also, that while we think our children need a head start, schools are kicking them out instead."
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