Can you imagine getting suspended from school in the first grade? This is an issue in schools here in Utah. Students as early as in kindergarten and first grade are getting suspended from school. This is a major issue because studies show that high rates of suspensions lead kids to be pushed out of schools and into the prison system.

Oftentimes, when students engage in physical alterations, they are suspended. This should not be happening, as young children are still learning how to cope with their emotions. A huge problem is that schools don’t have sufficient mental health support staff or experienced staff trained in how to support students who display aggressive behavior. Students do not participate in these behaviors because they want to; there are often other factors and traumatic events outside of school that may be affecting students. Some of the students are facing abuse, hunger, and may be unsheltered. Schools failing to provide adequate support for students with severe mental health trauma are failing students and pushing them out of schools through the use of suspensions and expulsions.

Black and Latinx students are overly represented in school’s suspension rates because they are more harshly punished than their white peers. The overrepresentation of Black and Latinx students also correlates to the numbers of those who are incarcerated in the prison system.

Schools can stop the school to prison pipeline by participating in restorative justice practices that help build relationships among students, teachers, schools and the community. Restorative justice practices can reduce the number of suspensions and expulsion for students who have been historically targeted. Schools also need to have more mental health care workers to support students’ mental health needs. Students need to stay in school and not be pushed out.

Maleia Boyd, Bountiful