Illinois Prohibits Early Childhood Expulsion with Landmark Legislation
On August 14, Illinois 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 Facts about Expelling Young Children
Research suggests that the expulsion of toddlers and preschoolers from early childhood settings is occurring at alarmingly high rates. A 2005 study 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. More recent national data from the Office for Civil Rights show that African-American and Latino boys experience higher rates of disciplinary action than white boys. The data also suggest that increasingly African-American girls are experiencing similar problems. Other studies suggest that implicit bias plays a role.
The problem extends down into the youngest years as well. A 2002 study in Chicago found a high rate of expulsion in child care programs, particularly with infants and toddlers. Over 40 percent 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.
Unfortunately, parents are often not made aware of the problems before disciplinary actions are taken. In a recent study within child care programs in Chicago, directors/programs did not communicate with parents in 48% of removals of a child from a classroom. 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.
Expulsion Safeguards in the New Law
The new law in Illinois protects children from improper removal while improving transition processes for those who may benefit from placement in a different setting. Specifically, it:
- Provides 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;
- identifies the trainings and topics needed to address the problem and asks state agencies to make this information available to programs; and
- strengthens 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 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. Nothing in the bill shall preclude 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.
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. 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.
Continuous quality improvement doesn’t just happen in the classroom, but on the policy level as well. Although our legislation is based in best practice and has been crafted deliberately, 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 rollout of this legislation, as well as continuing to advocate for everything that must next be put into place.
-Jonathan Doster, Policy Specialist, and Allison Lowe-Fotos, Policy Manager
Ounce of Prevention Fund
(October 23, 2017)
 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
 U. S. Department of Education, 2013-2014 Civil Rights Data Collection. ocrdata.ed.gov
 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
 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
 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.
 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.