Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Suspending And Expelling Kindergartners? It Happens

Office of the governor
File photo of Gov. Jay Inslee and first lady Trudi Inslee at a kindergarten class at an elementary school in Yelm, Washington, in 2015.

When we think of kids getting suspended or expelled from school, we usually think of high schoolers. But it also happens to elementary school students -- even kindergartners. Monday parents begged a panel of Washington lawmakers to ban suspensions for the youngest students.

Morgan Denton told the story of her emotionally challenged son who was suspended from school more than 100 times between kindergarten and fourth grade.

“Anthony would beg to not be sent home because he knew getting sent home meant that I wasn’t able to work,” Denton said. “He knew that if I wasn’t at work, that we could possibly lose our home. That created a very heavy burden on a child that never should have had that burden in the first place.”

Janis White said her son is on the autism spectrum and learned that by acting out he could go home.

Last year in Washington, there were nearly 9,000 suspensions or expulsions of kindergartners, first graders and second graders -- a dramatic 66-percent increase over just a few years ago. And suspensions or expulsions of kindergartners nearly doubled between 2013 and 2016.

“The numbers show that we have a problem.” Democratic state Sen. Andy Billig said. His proposal would ban schools from suspending or expelling students in kindergarten through second grade except in cases where a student brings a gun to school.

His measure would allow early elementary students to be sent home for the remainder of the school day if the child posted an immediate danger to the school, but they would have to be allowed to return to school the following day. Representatives of two school districts said that provision concerned them because it might take longer than a day to develop a plan to ensure the safe return of the student to school.

Billig noted that nationally suspensions and expulsions from school fall disproportionately on students of color and students with disabilities.

Senate Bill 5155 would also encourage school districts to implement evidence-based intervention programs to address behavior issues without resorting to suspension.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."