Pre-school to Prison Pipeline?

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A new report from the Department of Education confirms Black parents are not paranoid when it comes to how their kids are treated in local schools. While Black preschoolers make up only 18 percent of enrolled students, they account for 50 percent of preschool suspensions. The study also shows that Black students of all ages are suspended and expelled at three times the rate of White children.

Dr. James P. Comer, professor of child psychiatry at the Yale University Medical School, who was recently appointed to President Obama’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans, says that suspensions and expulsions are not appropriate means of discipline for even the most disruptive 3- and 4-year-olds.

“These children are not being willful or bad, they just haven’t developed the capacity to manage school situations or deal with conflict,” explains Comer. “Schools have to be in teaching mode instead of trying to control through punishment.”

This type of ostracism can send the message to children that they’re “bad,” and not welcomed at school. Black boys, especially, are targeted because, “It’s a part of our cultural narrative that if they’re not dangerous now, they could be dangerous later on,” states Comer.

Multiple suspensions or expulsions can lead to more serious behavioral issues later in life with severe consequences, including imprisonment.

“The fact that the school-to-prison pipeline appears to start as early as age 4, before kindergarten, should horrify us,” US Education Secretary Arne Duncan said at a recent press conference. “We must do better.”

Comer believes parents can proactively protect kids. If your child is suspended or expelled, focus on explaining how to make his or her behavior more responsible, rather than just on the punishment.

“Help them understand that despite their troublesome behavior, they are good people,” asserts Comer. “They just have to develop the skills to handle things better.”

To file a complaint with the US Office for Civil Rights visit or call 1-800-421-3481