The following post originally appears on The Washington Post under the title, “My Son Has Been Suspended Five Times. He’s 3.” It was written by Tunette Powell, a motivational speaker and author. She is co-founder of The Truth Heals, a nonprofit for individuals and families affected by fatherlessness.
By: Tunette Powell
I received a call from my sons’ school in March telling me that my oldest needed to be picked up early. He had been given a one-day suspension because he had thrown a chair. He did not hit anyone, but he could have, the school officials told me.
JJ was 4 at the time.
I agreed his behavior was inappropriate, but I was shocked that it resulted in a suspension.
For weeks, it seemed as if JJ was on the chopping block. He was suspended two more times, once for throwing another chair and then for spitting on a student who was bothering him at breakfast. Again, these are behaviors I found inappropriate, but I did not agree with suspension.
Still, I kept quiet. I knew my history. I was the bad preschooler.
I was expelled from preschool and went on to serve more suspensions than I can remember. But I do remember my teachers’ disparaging words. I remember being told I was bad and believing it. I remember just how long it took me to believe anything else about myself.
And even still, when my children were born, I promised myself that I would not let my negative school experiences affect them. I believed my experience was isolated. I searched for excuses. Maybe I was just a bad kid. Maybe it had something to do with my father’s incarceration, which forced my mother to raise me and my brothers alone.
So I punished JJ at home and ignored my concerns. Then, two months later, I was called to pick up my 3-year-old son, Joah. Joah had hit a staff member on the arm. After that incident, they deemed him a “danger to the staff.” Joah was suspended a total of five times. In 2014, my children have received eight suspensions.
Just like before, I tried to find excuses. I looked at myself. What was I doing wrong? My children are living a comfortable life. My husband is an amazing father to JJ and Joah. At home, they have given us very few problems; the same goes for time with babysitters.
I blamed myself, my past. And I would have continued to blame myself had I not taken the boys to a birthday party for one of JJ’s classmates. At the party, the mothers congregated to talk about everyday parenting things, including preschool. As we talked, I admitted that JJ had been suspended three times. All of the mothers were shocked at the news.
“JJ?” one mother asked.
“My son threw something at a kid on purpose and the kid had to be rushed to the hospital,” another parent said. “All I got was a phone call.”
One after another, white mothers confessed the trouble their children had gotten into. Some of the behavior was similar to JJ’s; some was much worse.
Most startling: None of their children had been suspended.
After that party, I read a study reflecting everything I was living.
Black children represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment but make up 48 percent of preschool children receiving more than one out-of-school suspension, according to the study released by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights in March.
I immediately thought back to my own childhood. I thought back to the humiliating labels that greeted me before I could read. I thought back to the number of black friends and family members who also were suspended and expelled. I thought about my family and friends who had not overcome the detrimental effects of being suspended in preschool. I did not want that for JJ and Joah. I did not want it for any child.
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