State lawmakers want to form a task force of educators and advocates to look into the issue of pre-kindergarten suspensions, a little-known practice that came to light recently amid a surge in 3- and 4-year-olds being temporarily kicked out of Baltimore public schools.
A bill introduced this week by Del. Barbara Robinson calls for establishing an 11-member task force that includes political leaders, representatives of the state Department of Education and the Baltimore City school system, and members of parent and advocacy organizations.
Robinson, a Baltimore Democrat, said she was "appalled" to learn that pre-kindergartners were being suspended and that the city's black and special-education students were being disproportionately punished.
"Rather than just make it a Baltimore City study, we wanted to make it a statewide study," Robinson said. "We want to take a better look at it, find out why, and if we can stop those type of suspensions from happening and find a better way of disciplining."
The task force, which would report its findings to the governor, would make recommendations about the effectiveness of pre-K suspensions and whether the practice should continue.
The group would scrutinize the number of students suspended since the 2011-2012 school year, specifically looking at the rates of Baltimore's pre-kindergartners compared to other districts. The group would also study the impact that suspensions have on the toddlers' future academic performance and behavior.
According to the most recent suspension data, 77 pre-K students statewide had out-of-school suspensions last school year, down from 91 in the 2011-2012 school year. The majority of the state's pre-K suspensions were for physical attacks on teachers and students.
Baltimore had the most pre-kindergartners suspended, with 25 in the 2012-2013 school year, a 66 percent increase from the previous year.
The district with the second-highest number of pre-K suspensions was Anne Arundel County, with 10.
According to data provided to The Baltimore Sun in November, the city school district logged 33 suspensions for pre-kindergartners, meaning some students were suspended more than once. The district declined to break down the suspensions by offense.
The state school board recently passed regulations to guide districts away from so-called "zero-tolerance" policies that push students out of school for long periods of time for nonviolent offenses.
Del. Mary Washington, a Baltimore Democrat who co-sponsored the task force bill, said she also wanted to help support advocates' efforts to establish reasonable discipline policies for all grades, and felt they should start with the age group that's just being introduced to school.
"We understood that it would be really important to take this issue apart, particularly when we're talking about pre-K students," she said.
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