In 2018, kindergarten children were suspended 1252 times, and 150 of those were long suspensions of up to 20 days for violence or persistent, serious misbehaviour. Seven out of 10 kindergarten suspensions involve students with a disability.
Between kindergarten and year 2, Aboriginal pupils made up 30 per cent of those given short and long suspensions, despite making up just 7 per cent of all enrolments.
Disability advocates have welcomed the proposed changes. The policy is open for consultation until October 11.
But in their letter to Ms Mitchell, the four groups argued the government should be ensuring schools had the staff, support programs and infrastructure to address every student’s needs.
Craig Petersen, head of the Secondary Principals Council, said the existing suspension rules were clear and fair, and were used as a last resort when other strategies failed.
“[The proposed policy is] weakening the current procedures for extremely violent and disruptive students without putting out the additional support schools need,” he said.
Tim Spencer, the president of the P&C Federation, said the policy lacked clarity, and warned a plan to give principals more discretion would exacerbate inconsistency between schools.
“[A suspension is] the time out philosophy,”’ he said. “Let’s take the child out of the school, and sort things out and work out how to get them back in and on track.”
Ms Mitchell said the government’s proposal had been developed over two years and involved extensive consultation.
“There is absolutely no point of data collection if we continue to ignore what that data has so clearly demonstrated,” she said. “We can, and we must, find better ways to support our students, teachers and families manage these often complex issues.”
David Roy, a University of Newcastle academic whose work focuses on educational inclusion, says the new policy “recognises that suspension should be a last resort and follows evidence-based practice.
“One has to question a system where white, able-bodied adults are disproportionately suspending disabled and indigenous children.”
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Jordan Baker is Education Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald