Resources for School Response

As schools and early childhood programs address the new requirements of the law, it is important to note the challenges facing many of these programs. Early childhood programs are often small, with limited staff, and the staff may not be well trained in addressing challenging student behaviors. While one purpose of the new regulation is to ensure that state agencies provide early childhood professionals with the recommendations and resources needed to support social-emotional health and address behavioral issues, the law's requirements in terms of the roles of the agencies are relatively weak.

The law specifically states that early childhood programs may utilize the State Board of Education, Department of Human Services, and the Department of Children and Family Services. These state entities are tasked with recommending trainings, technical supports and professional development resources as well as providing the resources to contract with mental health consultants. While the law requires these agencies to provide resources to contract with mental health consultants, there is no requirement that these agencies develop or provide trainings for programs; they are simply required to "recommend" them. Schools and programs may need to put pressure on these agencies to provide them with the support they need to implement the law.

Schools can look for guidance from federal and state sources as they implement the law. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services undertook a survey of state and local action aimed at preventing expulsion and suspension in early childhood education. This high-level overview examined states like Arkansas, which at the time, met 9 out of 10 of the National Institute for Early Education Research's (NIEER) quality benchmarks. The survey noted that Arkansas's working group on early childhood programs had added content on expulsion and suspension prevention in licensing tests that providers were required to take and required parental notification of a program's non-expulsion policy. Other states like Connecticut formed partnerships with non-profit behavioral health providers to deliver consistent services to preschool students. Although it predates HB 2663, this guide is helpful nonetheless as schools and programs look for guidance and best practices.

As schools look to modify their handbooks and procedures, it is worth noting that a number of districts have already addressed issues of discipline for early childhood education in their handbooks. Since 2014, Chicago Public Schools has prohibited pre-K to second grade in or out-of-school suspensions with limited exceptions. Head Start also revised its performance standards in 2016 to prohibit expelling or unenrolling children from the program. In addition to the policy statements issued by DHS and DOE, the Head Start Program Performance Standards (codified in 45 C.F.R § 1302.17) provide helpful, program-level recommendations. These recommendations include developing and clearly communicating discipline guidance with staff, families, and community partners, providing teachers support from specialists, consultants, and counselors, as well as setting goals related to discipline reduction and using data to assess progress.

Additionally, organizations like the Ounce of Prevention (Ounce) conduct trainings in which they provide information about practices that can be used by school districts. The Ounce's 2016 training on "Suspending Early Childhood Expulsion," is particularly insightful as many of the best practices the Ounce outlined were adopted into law. In addition, the Ounce provides a number of Illinois-specific resources in its Suspending Early Childhood Expulsion training materials that schools and programs may wish to utilize when crafting their response to HB 2663.