An Omaha mother says both of her children have been suspended from preschool multiples times in what she sees as prejudicial school discipline.
Motivational speaker and author Tunette Powell writes about how her 3- and 4-year-old sons are treated differently because they are black in an op-ed for the Washington Post. She says in 2014 alone her two sons have been suspended eight times.
She had to pick up her 4-year-old son JJ for a one-day suspension in March because he threw a chair. It didn’t hit anyone, but school officials told Powell that it could have, and that was why JJ was suspended.
She said after that, it was as if officials wanted him out of school.
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“For weeks, it seemed as if JJ was on the chopping block,” Powell wrote. “He was suspended two more times, once for throwing another chair and then for spitting on a student who was bothering him at breakfast. Again, these are behaviors I found inappropriate, but I did not agree with suspension.”
Powell admits to being “bad” herself in preschool and how her teacher’s disparaging remarks about her character made it difficult “to believe anything else about myself.”
Weeks later she received a call to pick up her 3-year-old Joah because he hit a staff member on the arm. He was labeled a “danger to the staff” and was subsequently suspended four more times.
As a mother she wondered what she was doing wrong. Powell founded The Truth Heals, a nonprofit for individuals and families affected by fatherlessness, but her kids have a supportive father at home.
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“What was I doing wrong? My children are living a comfortable life. My husband is an amazing father to JJ and Joah. At home, they have given us very few problems; the same goes for time with babysitters,” she wrote.
When she took JJ to a birthday party and spoke to other parents, they were shocked to learn about his suspensions.
“My son threw something at a kid on purpose and the kid had to be rushed to the hospital,” another parent told her. “All I got was a phone call.”
Several white moms told her about the trouble their kids got into without being suspended, some of it similar to JJ’s offenses and some much word.
Some people advised Powell to move her kids to another daycare, but she says it wouldn’t solve the problem.
“We can no longer put a Band-Aid on our nation’s preschool-to-prison pipeline, which pushes children out of the education system and criminalizes relatively minor offenses,” she argued. “Moving my boys to another school would have provided a stopgap solution. It may have solved my problem, but it would not have solved the problem.”
Powell joined the parent advisory board at the boys’ preschool and plans to work to make change. She encourages other parents to do the same and break the silence on racial differences in child discipline.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain/United States Marine Corps, Tunette Powell