A bill banning school suspensions for students in preschool through fourth grade, allowing them to spend more time in the classroom, was signed into law by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.

HB 2123 is designed to prevent early elementary students from receiving school suspensions and implement new disciplinary measures in order to provide a more positive outcome for students and teachers.

Carlos Alfaro, a representative for the nonprofit Stand Up For Children Arizona, said that this is a big step in improving Arizona’s education system.

“When you suspend a student you are pushing them to not like school and not want to be there,” Alfaro said.

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However, there are exceptions to suspending younger students if they are in possession of weapons, drugs or at risk of putting a staff member in danger.

Arizona is not the first state to ban school suspensions for early elementary students. Similar laws have been passed in California, Colorado, Arkansas and Oregon to ban suspensions for early grade levels.

The disciplinary act of suspending young students is seen as outdated and unnecessary by most educators. In 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services and Education recommended that states start limiting suspensions for early elementary grades and preschool. 

“We see that when you push kids out of school they are going to end up not wanting to go back to school, and do not get the benefit of feeling that they are a part of that community at school,” Alfaro said.

Suspending students at a young age can do more harm than good by negatively impacting their future. Children who have behavioral or learning difficulties are more likely to be suspended, and the days they miss cause them to fall further behind in school.

Children of color are also more likely to be suspended from school. In the 2015 to 2016 school year, a study from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection recorded that 72.39% of students suspended in Arizona were students of color.

Seth Aleshire, the Phoenix Elementary School District’s coordinator for student success, is at the forefront of making sure young students within the Phoenix School District are getting the help they need to be successful in the classroom.

“The students who are more likely to be suspended are the ones that we don’t want to be,” Aleshire said.

The new disciplinary measures that are taking place of suspension require an emotional and behavioral approach to help struggling students within the classroom.

The Phoenix Elementary School district uses the process of multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS). The MTSS process is a three-tiered system that combines efforts from educators, counselors and parents. The levels of support for a child increase based on their needs.

“The MTSS groups help us identify students that are having academic or behavioral difficulties and try to have a proactive stance on kids we see with escalating behaviors and provide interventions and support for them,” Aleshire said.

Most of the facilitators in the MTSS groups are teachers or administrators who are trained specialists.

Although the MTSS groups add to a teacher’s workload, their efforts as facilitators do not go unpaid. Part of the law is that the Arizona Department of Education will provide funding for educators to receive the necessary resources and training for dealing with young students’ mental health.

The Phoenix Elementary School teachers who are a part of the MTSS groups receive a stipend, paid professional development and professional release time.

After losing almost a full year of education due to the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping kids in school is imperative after trying to re-acclimate young students to a classroom setting.

“When a kid is not getting the education they need, it takes on a certain importance considering the fact that we all collectively agree we pretty much lost a year,” Aleshire said.

So far the MTSS groups have shown positive impacts for students within the Phoenix School District. The Phoenix Elementary School District’s main goal is to build a positive culture in the schools to create a better learning environment for students and teachers.