"Our youngest learners need to be in class."By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A new Minneapolis Public Schools policy now bans suspensions for some of the district’s youngest learners.

Suspensions are now banned for pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first-grade students. The move is aimed at keeping children in class and getting teachers to discipline students at school.

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The change comes amid a U.S. Department of Education investigation into Minneapolis schools over its inconsistent suspension practices.

The numbers prove that children of color or with mental health problems are more likely to be suspended than other students.
MPS officials hope this new policy will change all of that.

“Anytime a student is away from the learning environment it’s a challenge to them being engaged and learning,” said Dr. Bernadia Johnson, the MPS superintendent.

This is something Johnson has wanted to do for years.

“If the student can be redirected, then why suspend him or her if nobody was injured,” Johnson said.

She says the number of suspensions has decreased over the years, but the district still has issues, especially with the number of children of color who are suspended for nonviolent offenses.

Johnson says 60 percent of suspensions last year were nonviolent. Of that 60 percent, 75 percent were black. Of that, 50 percent were black males.

“If a white student did something, he or she would not be suspended, but if an African-American male did it, he would be suspended,” Johnson said. “So we are trying to address that disproportionality with this.”

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She says teachers received training they hope will lead to better ways of dealing with students.

“We believe that we’ve given schools the opportunity to look at behaviors differently and what the consequences for what those behaviors will be, and they not all lead to suspensions,” said Johnson.

Parents like Marchalle Barksdale believe children need to be in the classroom.

“With them being at home missing school and then they have to make it up, and sometimes they fall behind depending on how long their suspension is,” Barksdale said.

Teachers will now use time outs, or bring another adult into the room to help calm the child down, give them time to process and talk.

She believes the most important thing is to make sure the child is re-integrated back into the classroom.

Johnson believes parent involvement is the best way to deal with this issue.

She believes if children know there is a direct line of communication between parent and teacher, they are more likely to not be disruptive and do better in a classroom setting.

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Johnson says mental health officials will also play a larger role in helping these children learn how to cope in a classroom setting.

Reg Chapman