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How many suspensions were given to kindergartners last year?

When I was covering one of the public hearings this month about suspensions in the Buffalo Public Schools, one of the things that piqued my interest was a comment made by Madge Whiskey, who operates a day care center.

She talked about a 5-year-old in her care who had been suspended for more than a week.

"How could they suspend a 5-year-old baby?" she asked. "I stand here today because I'm peeved. I'm upset. The system has failed our children."

And then, at another public hearing that my colleague, Sandy Tan, covered later that day, an elementary school principal also addressed the issue of 5-year-olds getting suspended. Sandy wrote:

Dawn DiNatale, the principal of Stanley M. Makowski Early Childhood Center, spoke at the evening meeting in Waterfront Elementary School.

She mentioned a kindergartner who was going to a hearing this week for her third long-term suspension. [A kindergartner headed for a third long-term suspension -- that means this 5-year-old is about to be suspended for more than a third week of school this year. Remember, only the superintendent or her designee can assign a long-term suspension, which is six days or longer.]
Her school has an open classroom setup, and the child has repeatedly run out of class and out of the building, jeopardizing her own safety.

"I am not proud to say that we cannot contain this child," she said. "A lot of people look at me and say, 'How can you not do that with a 5-year-old?' I invite any one of you to come and spend a day with me and children who are in true crisis. We are literally running after them or pulling them down from shelving or things that would harm them."

Behavior improves when a child's needs are met, she said, but schools just don't have all the resources to meet all those needs. In kindergarten, for instance, her class sizes run 28 students per room. Teaching assistants, aides and substitutes are also often unavailable or undertrained, she said.

One other note to add to the mix: Interim Superintendent Amber Dixon this month said she was putting a stop to all suspensions for students in pre-k and kindergarten for "insubordination," a term that seems to cover a lot of ground.

Well, all this got me to wondering just how many of the district's youngest students had been suspended last year.

I asked for a breakdown of last year's suspensions, by grade level. The district apparently does not routinely break down suspensions in that way, but agreed to run a report for me that did.

The breakdown is interesting for a number of reasons.

For one thing, as you'll see, there were 200 suspensions of kindergartners last year, along with 35 suspensions of children in pre-k. (The totals include short-term suspensions of a week or less, assigned by a principal, as well as long-term suspensions of longer than a week, assigned by central office.)

I also thought it was interesting to see that the grade levels with the most suspensions -- by far -- were seventh and ninth grade. There were 2,427 seventh-graders suspended last year, and 2,323 ninth-graders. (There are -- roughly -- the same number of students at each grade level in the district in most years.)

Following in third place: eighth grade, with 1,731 suspensions.

Here's the full breakdown:

Grade Short-term suspensions 2010-11 Long-term suspensions 2010-11 Total suspensions 2010-11
Pre-k 30 5 35
K 180 20 200
1 256 44 300
2 408 69 477
3 593 51 644
4 891 83 974
5 1293 120 1413
6 1314 140 1454
7 2145 282 2427
8 1460 271 1731
9 1972 351 2323
10 1221 256 1477
11 699 161 860
12 443 111 554
Total 12905 1964 14869


- Mary Pasciak

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