How to prevent pre-K suspensions [Letter]

November 16, 2013

Recently, The Sun published an article on pre-K suspensions ("Tough penalties for young students," Nov. 12) and an editorial decrying them ("Pre-K suspension folly," Nov. 13).

A decade ago, child care programs faced a similar problem — children with challenging behaviors were being expelled, sometimes from multiple programs by their third birthday. A range of stakeholders convened by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Maryland State Department of Education developed an initiative called the Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation program (ECMHC) to address the problem, and it has almost completely eliminated expulsions from participating child care programs.

Here's how it works: When a child is exhibiting challenging behavior, the child care provider can call an interventionist who will visit the child care program and observe. She may suggest changes to the physical arrangement of the classroom or to teaching methods that will improve the child's behavior. Interventionists also suggest techniques that teachers can use to alter specific childhood behaviors. For example, a teacher can regularly mention what activity comes next which will ease the anxiety of a child who has difficulty with transitions. In a small minority of cases, the interventionist may recommend that the parents be counseled about individual services for their child.

Although pre-K teachers can avail themselves of ECMHC services, very few do so. And if they did, they would swamp the limited capacity of the program. However, school systems could look to the ECMHC project as a model approach to building an alternative to suspension, one that rectifies problem behavior without depriving the child of educational opportunity.

Margaret E. Williams, Baltimore

The writer is executive director of the Maryland Family Network.

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