Illinois Prohibits Early Childhood Expulsion with Landmark Legislation (Guest Blogger: Allison Lowe-Fotos)

On August 14, Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law HB2663, legislation aimed at ending the practice of expelling infants, toddlers, and preschoolers from their early childhood programs. The new law, Public Act 100-105, represents the culmination of a multi-year effort to address a serious problem facing children, their families, and early care and education providers across the state.

The Goal of HB2663

Research suggests that the expulsion of toddlers and preschoolers from early childhood settings is occurring at alarmingly high rates. While it may seem counterintuitive, a nationwide study in 2005 indicated that Illinois preschoolers were kicked out of their programs at a rate nearly three times that of their grade school and high school peers[1]. More recent national data from the Office for Civil Rights show that African American and Latino preschool boys are subjected to higher rates of disciplinary action, and increasingly African-American girls are experiencing similar problems[2], with other studies suggesting that implicit bias plays a role[3].

The problem extends down into the early years as well, with a study conducted in 2002 in Chicago, showing a high rate of expulsion in childcare programs, particularly with infants and toddlers. Over 40% of child care programs asked a child to leave because of social-emotional and behavioral problems, with the most challenging behaviors being biting, hitting, and aggressive behavior[4].

And parents are often left out of the picture. In a recent study within child care programs in Chicago, programs often undertook changes without first engaging the parents around the issue. In 48% of the most recently requested removals of a child from a classroom, directors/programs did not communicate with parents[5].

Expulsion in the earliest years leads to higher expulsion and suspension rates in later grades, and there is ample evidence showing that school expulsion practices are associated with negative educational, health, and developmental outcomes for all children[6].

Over two years ago, a group of early childhood advocates in Illinois began brainstorming possible solutions to the problem. The group recognized that there is no single reason why early childhood expulsion rates are high and there is no one culprit to blame. It is often a combination of a child’s behavior, the programs’ interpretation of and response to that behavior, a family’s situation, and the state’s provision of guidance and resources to programs and families.

So it is two years later and we’ve passed landmark legislation, which begs the question “What is Public Act 100-105?” and “How did we get here?”

Public Act 100-105

The law aims to ensure that young children remain in the most beneficial early childhood setting for their development by:

  1. Providing protections for children in Illinois State Board of Education-funded early childhood programs and licensed child care settings against preventable expulsion, similar to those of K-12 students;
  2. Identifying the trainings and topics needed to address the problem and asks state agencies to make this information available to programs; and
  3. Strengthening data collection and dissemination by agencies funding early childhood services to help inform agencies, lawmakers, and advocates and guide policymaking and practice-planning.

From the beginning, both advocates and lawmakers recognized that of course not every early childhood setting is right for every young child. However, the law protects children from improper removal while improving transition processes for those who may benefit from placement in a different setting. The bill sets forth a process by which the chances of removal of a child from a program due to behavior and/or implicit bias is significantly minimized and ensures that removal is not the first or only option explored. It clarifies that available resources, services, and interventions must be utilized, such as developmental and social emotional screenings, infant/early childhood mental health consultation, referrals to Early Intervention and Early Childhood Special Education, and consultation with a child’s health care provider.

Parents must also be engaged at all points of the process and nothing in the bill precludes a parent’s or legal guardian’s right to voluntarily withdraw his or her child from an early childhood program.

In addition, in the case of the determination of a serious safety threat to a child or others, the temporary removal of a child from attendance in group settings may be used, with the clarification that the child must be returned to the group setting as quickly as safety will allow and that the same resources, services, and interventions must be called upon.

The legislation is groundbreaking in that it encompasses licensed child care programs and state-funded early learning programs, as well as specifically requests that implicit bias and reflection be addressed within professional development of staff.

How the Law Came to Be

When our group of early childhood advocates decided to tackle the early childhood expulsion problem, it became abundantly clear that a statewide policy was important to establish, partly because we wanted to ensure similar protections for children in a range of early learning programs. So the group wrote draft legislative language based on best practices in the field. Once the language was written and a bill was filed, we now had a tangible idea to share with others.

Over the next 18 months, the coalition’s leaders met and workshopped the language with parents, early childhood providers, legislative staff, the state agencies impacted by the legislation, K-12 experts, and leaders of various justice groups, among others. When concerns were raised, changes were made. The bill improved dramatically before it was ever called in committee, and we accumulated a long list of organizational supporters.

And because of the groundwork laid over many months, the lawmakers we approached to champion the bill agreed to join the effort without reservation. In other words, diffusing organizational opposition and collaborating to obtain input, particularly among the state agencies, helped secure strong legislative support from both parties from the beginning. By the end of spring, HB2663 accrued 65 cosponsors, 95 votes in the House, near-unanimous support in the Senate, and a signature from the governor.

What’s Next?

Those of us involved in the passage of HB2663 know the state law is only the first phase of a long-term effort to eliminate expulsions in early childhood settings. This is the point where macro policy work often stops and/or fails, but we in Illinois know that this is where the real and hard work begins.

We hope to learn through implementation what works and what doesn’t work. We also hope to drive more resources to programs, staff, and children and families. And before all of that happens, we need to make sure that good rules are promulgated. Currently, the Illinois State Board of Education, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and the Illinois Department of Human Services are working collaboratively with the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development to develop rules, guidance, and best practices. These rules will be available for public comment once drafted.

Continuous quality improvement doesn’t just happen in the classroom, but on the policy level as well. While our legislation is based in best practice and has been deliberately thought-out, we understand that any policy will have unintended consequences, impact different groups differently, and present unknown challenges. We are committed to remaining reflective, innovative, and collaborative in the roll-out of this legislation, as well as continuing to advocate for everything that must next be put into place.

For more information and to see a webinar recording about the legislation, visit:

https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/2695288214243874049

Allison Lowe-Fotos, Policy Manager, Ounce of Prevention FundAllison Lowe-Fotos, MSW, LCSW is a Policy Manager with the Ounce of Prevention Fund. She works on mental health, special education, early childhood expulsion, child welfare and juvenile justice, and workforce development initiatives and issues at the Ounce. She has previously worked in direct practice in early childhood education programs providing case management, family support work, therapy with children and families, infant/early childhood mental health consultation, and supervising a teen parent home visiting program. She also has international experience working in programs and projects in China, Mexico, and Turkey. Allison has a B.S. in Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an M.S.W. from Loyola University Chicago.

Jonathan Doster, Policy Specialist, Ounce of Prevention Fund

References

[1] Gilliam, W. S. (2005). Prekindergarteners left behind: Expulsion rates in state prekindergarten programs. Foundation for Child Development. Retrieved from: http://challengingbehavior.fmhi.usf.edu/explore/policy_docs/prek_expulsion.pdf

[2] U. S. Department of Education, 2013-2014 Civil Rights Data Collection. ocrdata.ed.gov

[3] Gilliam, W.S. (2016). Do Early Educators’ Implicit Biases Regarding Sex and Race Relate to Behavior Expectations and Recommendations of Preschool Expulsions and Suspensions? Retrieved from: http://ziglercenter.yale.edu/publications/Preschool%20Implicit%20Bias%20Policy%20Brief_final_9_26_276766_5379.pdf

[4] Cutler, A., & Gilkerson, L. (2002). Unmet needs project: A research, coalition building, and policy initiative on the unmet needs of infants, toddlers, and families. Retrieved from: https://www.illinois.gov/icdd/Documents/Comm/Unmet-Needs-Final-Report.pdf

[5] Zinsser, K. M., Nair Das, V., Zulauf, C. (April 2017) Preschool Expulsion Rates and Social-Emotional Learning Support across Neighborhood Contexts. Paper presented at the American Education Research Association annual meeting in San Antonio TX, April 2017.

[6] J.H. Lamont and others, Out-of-school suspension and expulsion, Pediatrics 131 (3) (2013): 1000-1007; L. Raffaele Mendez, “Predictors of suspension and negative school outcomes: A longitudinal investigation” New Directions for Youth Development 99 (2003): 17-33.

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