Proposed bill would make suspending kindergarteners easier 

By: - February 21, 2023 5:11 pm

Photo by Drazen Zigic | Getty Images

Some legislators and school officials want to pull back a law that makes it more difficult to suspend the state’s youngest elementary school students. 

That 2021 law banned the suspension of students in kindergarten through fourth grade, unless they were at least seven years old and their behavior reached a certain threshold, like bringing a dangerous weapon or drugs to school. 

But just two short years later, school administrators say that the law had caused issues with classroom management. The suspension restrictions are particularly problematic when teachers and administrators feel like suspension is their only option, Paul Tighe, executive director of Arizona School Administrators, told the Arizona Mirror. 

“We’ve seen kids with serious behavioral issues, throwing chairs and being violent,” he said. 

House Bill 2460, introduced by a Peoria Republican Rep. Beverly Pingerelli, would claw back the previous legislation, allowing kindergarten through fourth grade students to be suspended for up to two days at a time for any reason with a school-year cap on total suspensions for those students at 10 days.

In 2020, the Civil Rights Project found that middle and high school students in the 2015-16 school year lost 11 million instructional hours to suspensions. 

Tighe said he’s heard from administrators across the state that the suspension limitations make dealing with behavioral issues difficult. He added that allowing two-day suspensions for these students gives the school time to convene a meeting with parents to create a behavioral plan for the student. 

“We’re going to fix this to empower teachers and principals to make more decisions at the local level,” Pingerelli said when the full House of Representatives debated the bill on Feb. 21. 

Democratic Rep. Laura Terech, of Scottsdale, said she opposes the bill even though, as a teacher, she’s been in a classroom with a student who was flipping tables and throwing chairs. 

“That’s a child in crisis that needs the support that a school framework can provide,” Terech told her colleagues. 

The American Institute for Research found in a 2021 study that suspensions aren’t a good way to solve behavioral issues, even for middle- and high school students. 

Then-Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, who sponsored the 2021 bill, made similar arguments, saying that when the youngest students act out, it’s typically because they have deeper issues that need to be addressed and that kicking them out of school isn’t a good solution. 

But the Arizona School Administrators Association, the Arizona Charter Schools Association and the Arizona School Boards Association all favor the new proposal to give schools more leeway in determining punishments for their youngest students. 

To an extent, Tighe said he agreed with critics of the bill who say suspensions aren’t the best way to serve students who act out. 

“I can’t think of an instance in which a suspension is in the best interest of the individual student being suspended,” Tighe said. 

But he said the threat of suspension can serve as a deterrent, and that sometimes a suspension is what it takes to get unengaged parents involved in the process to help meet the student’s needs. Tighe believes that, in some cases, suspending students serves the greater good, especially with an ongoing teacher shortage that means sometimes the people heading up a classroom aren’t trained in how to deal with disruptive students. 

Rep. Nancy Gutierrez, D-Tucson, also opposed the bill, because kicking kids out of school at such a young age only contributes to learning loss and is a key component of the school-to-prison pipeline. 

“I don’t think that suspending these young students is the right thing to do,” she said. 

It’s been widely reported that Black and Hispanic students are much more likely to be suspended than their white peers and that students with disabilities are also more likely to be suspended than students without disabilities. 

Black boys were suspended at three times their enrollment rate across the U.S. in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.

The Review of Education Research in 2018 found that no one factor explained the disparities in suspension rates for Black students and those with disabilities, but that a variety of factors, including student behavior, student characteristics and variables at the individual school level all contribute to disproportionate suspensions for these student groups.

The bill won preliminary approval from the full House on Feb. 21 and awaits a formal vote. If it passes on that vote, it would go to the state Senate for consideration 


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Caitlin Sievers
Caitlin Sievers

Caitlin joined the Arizona Mirror in 2022 with almost 10 years of experience as a reporter and editor, holding local government leaders accountable from newsrooms across the West and Midwest. She's won statewide awards in Nebraska, Indiana and Wisconsin for reporting, photography and commentary.