PHILADELPHIA - The School District of Philadelphia has expanded its existing policy prohibiting the out-of-school suspension of kindergarten students to include first and second graders, beginning in the 2018-19 school year. The School Reform Commission passed the policy at its voting meeting today. In a statement released after the vote, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania noted that the organization has advocated for this policy change for years.

“The district’s number one interest always has to be what is in the best interests of children,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “An out-of-school suspension for a child in first or second grade is incredibly disruptive to the educational process and can have lasting consequences. We applaud the district for taking this next step and expanding the policy.”

According to data submitted by the district to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, more than 2,300 out-of-school suspensions were issued to 1st and 2nd graders during the 2016-17 school year, the most recent year for which data is available.

The commission’s vote comes after eight months of collaboration with parents, students, and administrators and after reviewing other districts' student discipline and support policies.

The new policy is part of a larger overhaul of the code of conduct for the 2018-19 school year undertaken with the assistance of the ACLU of PA. The revised code places more emphasis on early intervention and pursuing alternatives to school exclusion, except when serious harm has occurred. The new code also recognizes that appropriate interventions vary with age and the developmental status of the student.

“Extending the ban of out-of-school suspensions is a step in the right direction and is consistent with the recommendations of many child welfare and child development professionals,” said Harold Jordan, senior policy advocate with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, who collaborated with the district in support of the change. “These measures are a positive step forward and the right thing to do for the children of Philadelphia.

“Now the key is effective implementation.”

Philadelphia joins a growing number of major districts with similar policies, including Pittsburgh, Houston, Dallas, and Seattle, among others. The states of Texas and Connecticut also have adopted statutes limiting the suspension of young children.