Did you know that New Jersey preschoolers are being expelled from public schools against the law?

Posted on November 14, 2023


By Jake Moore
Policy Associate

For more information on this topic contact Jake at jmoore@acnj.org

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New Jersey passed legislation in 2016 to make expulsions and suspensions of preschoolers in publicly funded classrooms against the law, except in certain circumstances. However, both remain major issues facing our youngest children. 

Beginning in 2005, studies have shown incredibly high rates of temporary or permanent removal of preschoolers from classrooms and care centers. Of great concern, a 2019 survey of New Jersey teachers concluded that preschoolers were expelled at 8 times the rate as K-12 students, many of which could be in violation of law. 

Many New Jersey parents also attest to being “backdoor expelled” or “soft expelled” from programs, meaning they were either asked to transfer schools or told their child was not the right fit for the program. 

Why is this so alarming?

Young children learn through relationships, which are disrupted by exclusionary discipline. More importantly, these suspensions or expulsions often disconnect children who are most in need of supportive connections. Safe, stable, and nurturing relationships set children up for success, and by moving away from exclusionary discipline, we can reduce the chances of negative life-long outcomes.

Many New Jersey parents value relationship building, and see early classroom and care settings as places that “help socialize [children] and provide love and safety.” Exclusion undermines these highly valued resources. Beyond the formative impact preschool has on children, parents also recognize that without it, they would be unable to work, placing additional stressors on their child's development. 

Why is this happening: Events or Environments?

In many ways, children are expelled not solely for a particular incident, but because of the conditions surrounding them. For example, when teachers are burnt out, unsupported, and stressed, students face higher chances of suspension. Higher rates of exclusionary discipline are also associated with higher teacher workloads and fewer student supports. Some have shown that stronger teacher-parent relationships can alleviate these risks of exclusion, especially for black and brown children, which supports that it's not necessarily events, but the relationships and resources available that drive exclusion. 

Within the preschool and early education context, the connection between teacher well-being, and student discipline is especially startling. Reports time and time again allude to preschool and other early childhood educators facing immense stress and poor mental health, which have only worsened since the pandemic. As a result, suspensions of preschoolers during the pandemic were nearly twice pre-pandemic levels. If we want to support children, we must support the workers tasked with making these disciplinary decisions. 

Relationships and Resources Matter

To combat these issues, districts and teachers need funding and support to follow the law, which did not mandate any in its implementation. The American Academy of Pediatrics has noted the need for greater access to developmental-behavioral pediatricians, trainings, screenings, and pediatric care in pursuit of fewer expulsions. As New Jersey continues to expand preschool, we must continue to be bold in supporting parents, educators, and providers to overcome these challenges.  


Watch a special presentation from
Dr. Walter Gilliam from Yale University Child Study Center on his research on the impact of the pandemic on young children, their families, and child care providers which includes alarming data on preschool expulsions.

Dr. Gilliam is an Elizabeth Mears and House Jameson professor of child psychiatry and psychology at the Yale Child Study Center and Director of Yale's Edward Ziegler Center in Child Development and Social Policy as well as a research fellow of the National Institute for Early Education Research

Dr. Gilliam was co-recipient of the prestigious 2008 Grawemeyer Award in Education for the coauthored book, A Vision for Universal Preschool Education. His research and scholarly writing address early childhood care and education early childhood mental health school readiness developmental assessment of young children and race and gender disparities in early childhood.

He is most known for his work on preschool expulsion and suspension, early childhood mental health consultation and race and gender bias in early childhood settings. His work frequently has been covered in major national and international news outlets and he actively provides consultation to state and federal decision makers.

He is a former senior advisor to the National Association of the Education of Young Children, past president of Child Care Aware of America, member of the board of directors for ZERO to THREE, The Irving Harris Foundation, First Children's Finance and All Our Kin.