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Suspensions of students in preK-2 alarm members of Connecticut state school board

May 4, 2017
State figures indicate students in primary grades are being suspended for reasons not permitted in state law.

Public schools in Connecticut suspended or expelled 1,674 students in preschool to Grade 2 during the last school year, despite a state law enacted in 2015 limiting such discipline to students who are sexually or physically violent, bring a firearm to school or distribute drugs.

The Connecticut Mirror reports that according to state data presented at a State Board of Education meeting, most of the children disciplined were black or Hispanic, and nearly one-quarter of youngsters in special education programs received suspensions.

The number of young students who received out-of-school suspensions in Connecticut was cut nearly in half over the last two school years, the number receiving in-school suspensions was unchanged.

Presented with the findings, members of the State Board were visibly upset that districts appeared to be not following the new law.

“I find it hard to believe that we have almost 2,000 students who are guilty of sexual assault” or other serious offenses, says board Chairman Allan Taylor.

The report broke down the reasons preK-2 students were given an out-of-school suspension: “fighting/battery,” 44 percent; “school policy violations,” 27 percent; “physical/verbal confrontation/ conduct unbecoming,” 19 percent; and “personally threatening behavior,” 5 percent.

Most of the suspended youngsters were enrolled in the state’s 10 lowest-performing districts. Waterbury Public Schools had the most students given out-of-school suspensions last year at 137, followed by Hartford with 104, New Haven with 99, and Bridgeport with 64.

“We tried to legislate a remedy and it’s still out of control,” says State Board member Joseph Vrabely. “That’s unacceptable.”

State Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell says the department does not have enough staff to oversee and audit whether districts are improperly suspending pupils.

“Like a lot of educational laws, there is not a clear penalty,” Wentzell says. “We may still have awareness issues around the law.’

Waterbury Superintendent Kathleen Ouellette, who was at the state board meeting for another matter, said her district is working to address the problem.

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