New data on suspensions and expulsions of Vermont kids under 9

Worried mother comforting crying son

It’s an urgent priority to reduce preventable exclusionary discipline incidents (broadly defined as suspension and expulsion) for young children—in order to ensure that each and every child is able to fully and equitably participate and to receive the highest quality services, resources, and supports. Building Bright Futures has produced a new Data Brief on Exclusionary Discipline in Vermont to document the existing data for children under age 9, limitations and challenges, and policy considerations for Vermont’s Early Childhood System. 

The data in this brief is not published or reported elsewhere and therefore has not yet been used to inform decision-making and implementation on this critical topic. However, moving forward, the baseline data in this brief can be used to evaluate current and future policy and programmatic strategies and investments.

Read the Data Brief

Data provided by the Agency of Education across school years 2018 and 2021 show that:

  • Quantitative data on exclusionary discipline incidents for children under 5 years through the annual reporting cycle are not publicly reportable due to extremely small numbers.
  • For children ages 5 through 8, the number of reported suspensions decreased annually from 643 in 2018 to 238 in 2021.
  • On average, students ages 5 through 8 who experienced an exclusionary action were suspended two times for each school year from 2018 to 2021 with an average length of suspension of one day.
  • There are disproportionate impacts on two vulnerable student groups across school years 2018 through 2021: 
    • Students eligible for free and reduced lunch (185% of the Federal Poverty Level) make up 35% of the student population, but account for an average of 72% of suspensions. In other words, students ages 5-8 from lower-income families are more than twice as likely to be suspended from school in Vermont (as compared to students from higher-income families).
    • Children receiving special education services through an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) make up 15% of the student population, but account for 36% of suspensions. In other words, special education students ages 5-8 are more than twice as likely to be suspended from school in Vermont (as compared to students not receiving special education services).
  • In addition, historically marginalized students make up an average of 82% of suspensions in children ages 5 through 8.
  • The Universal Prekindergarten Education Accountability and Continuous Improvement System (UPK ACIS) captured 27 incidents (43%) of violations involving exclusionary discipline practices including both suspension and expulsion for children ages 3-5. Of these incidents, 14 incidents (52%) involved children with disabilities on an IEP.

Limitations to the data include: 

  • Extremely small numbers make data unreportable on the following:
    • Suspension for children under age 5 
    • Specific vulnerable populations 
    • Expulsion and alternative placement for children under age 9
  • The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on educational settings and data collection
  • Inconsistent and incomplete reporting 

Implementation challenges include: 

  • Inconsistent communication and guidance for Universal Prekindergarten Education (UPK) settings
  • Timing of evaluations for additional supports
  • Barriers to implementing preventative approaches to exclusion including the ongoing workforce shortage and inadequate funding for evidence-based alternative approaches
  • Act 35 implementation and monitoring

Five policy considerations regarding exclusionary discipline for young children have resulted from the data, limitations, and challenges:

  1. Clear and consistent communication about current definitions and guidance
  2. Family, community, and professional-informed decision-making
  3. Specific consideration for vulnerable populations
  4. Investment in preventive and supportive approaches
  5. High-quality data to inform decision-making and implementation

There is still work to be done to eliminate preventable exclusionary discipline. The objective qualitative and quantitative data in this brief provide a foundation for building aligned strategies and their evaluation. 

BBF serves a critical role in Vermont, operating as a broker of up-to-date, high-quality data and information to guide policy decisions and strategy related to children, families, and the Early Childhood System. This data brief is one example of how BBF is supporting Vermont in compiling, analyzing, summarizing, and disseminating high quality data to inform decision-making. 

The findings of this brief do not necessarily indicate the views of the State of Vermont. 

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