March 10, 2021

Four things to know from teachers about school discipline

Good afternoon Chair Chamberlain, Senator Torres Ray, and members of the Senate Education Committee,

Thank you for allowing me to testify in support of Senate File 1048, a bill that will protect young students between the ages of 5 and 9 years old from most school suspensions and exclusions.

My name is Paula Cole, I’m the Executive Director of Educators for Excellence-Minnesota, a teacher-led nonprofit with approximately 2,300 members. 

Prior to moving into this role last July, I spent seven years teaching elementary school students in Minneapolis Public Schools.

Contrary to the existing narrative about students’ suspensions and expulsions, most teachers wish that their schools and districts would substitute punitive expulsions with socio-emotional services and supports for students so that they can be successful in their classrooms.

Educators for Excellence teacher members want you to know that:

Young students belong in their classrooms. Each time a child is sent home that’s lost time that could have been spent receiving the academic support that they need to be successful in their classrooms.

The argument that suspending students creates a negative reinforcer for misbehaviors is flawed because many students who feel inadequate and unprepared during lessons actually see suspensions as a reward that allows them to stay home where they don’t feel embarrassed by what they don’t know.

A child who loses countless hours of instruction from suspensions will only fall further behind in their academic progress, and can even result in perpetuating the vicious cycle of suspensions. In fact, suspensions and expulsions only create more problems for teachers who are constantly tasked with differentiating lessons to the tune of five different versions of the same lessons on any given day.

Black and brown kids or those living in poverty are overrepresented in disciplinary actions at schools, including in or out of school suspensions. Most young students, and especially little ones between the ages of 5 and 9, instead of need professional support to overcome trauma brought on by violence, homelessness, parent separation, or hunger to name a few of the triggers I saw when I was a teacher.

Educators for Excellence-Minnesota supports Senator Torres Ray for her commitment to protect young students from counterintuitive punishment at school. We support SF1048 because it thoughtfully addresses the problem through the following provisions:

Prohibiting disciplinary dismissals for students enrolled in early childhood education, preschool programs, or grades kindergarten through 3rd grade;

Providing specific resources for non-exclusionary disciplinary actions that engage the student, families, and mental health professionals;

As a former teacher with several years of experience in urban education, I urge you to support SF1048 because our little ones need support, not punishment, to resolve the different sources of trauma that are behind the behaviors that result in exclusion from their classrooms;

As always, I offer to connect you with our members both within and outside of the metro area to hear first-hand stories about the true effects of exclusionary discipline practices in their classrooms.

Thank you to Senator Torres Ray for leading this initiative and to Chair Chamberlain for giving this bill a hearing.

We call on Minnesota legislators to include non-punitive discipline measures in this year’s education omnibus bill that advances to the Governor. 

In partnership,

Paula Cole
Executive Director, E4E-Minnesota