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Preventing Suspension and Expulsion in Pennsylvania Early Childhood Programs

Preventing Suspension and Expulsion in Pennsylvania Early Childhood Programs

Last Updated: October 2022

This guide is intended to support the efforts of Pennsylvania Early Childhood Program Leaders to eliminate suspension and expulsion for young children. Here you will find resources addressing program policies, procedures, and practices that promote the positive social emotional development of young children and create a climate of support for early childhood personnel and stronger partnerships with families.

The Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) is committed to supporting the implementation of appropriate and positive behavior support practices to reduce and eventually eliminate the occurrence of suspension and expulsion. For additional information, reference OCDEL Announcement: Reduction of expulsion and suspension in ECE programs in PA.

The Pennsylvania Association for Infant Mental Health has also released a call to action for policymakers on the importance of systems and policies support for the early childhood field. Addressing Suspension and Expulsion in Early Childhood Education Settings: An Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Informed Approach

Foundation Setting

Establishing a culture of well-being within the work environment is imperative to fully engage early childhood professionals in the successful implementation of the guidance outlined in this document. Nurturing teacher-child relationships and intentional teaching strategies can promote young children’s social-emotional competence (Whittaker & Harden, 2010). Teachers can help young children develop their understanding of emotions, social skills, and capacity for self-regulation. The strategies teachers use to help children acquire social-emotional competence include modeling how to cope with frustration and other negative feelings, responding with sensitivity to children’s emotions, and teaching about emotions (Morris, Denham, Basset, & Curby, 2013). Teacher stress can interfere with positive teacher-child relationships and effective social-emotional teaching (Smith & Lawrence, 2019). Therefore, it is critical that both the leadership and the staff in childcare settings practice and model strategies shown to enhance well-being and strengthen resilience. This can establish a foundation where the workforce can feel healthy and prepared to provide the supports outlined in this guidance.

Several factors may contribute to a culture of well-being:

  • Supportive and professional relationships with other teachers and leadership
  • Teacher’s autonomy and opportunities to contribute to decision making in the workplace
  • Availability of classroom curriculum that promotes social-emotional learning (SEL)
  • Access to Infant Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (IECMH)
  • Access to and regular practice of mindfulness exercises
  • Organizational leaders who understand the importance of mental health and can identify resources for staff
  • Access to professional development for teachers and directors in areas relevant to staff well-being


Complete the self-assessment questionnaire to help you prioritize recommended policies, procedures, and practices to implement in your program. The assessment takes approximately 5-7 minutes to complete.

NOTE: A Pennsylvania version of this self-assessment is under development

After completing the assessment, return to this guide to discover Pennsylvania resources that can support your implementation of recommended policies and practices. Use coaching resources as appropriate or needed.

Pennsylvania supports a mixed delivery system of services for children birth through age five through the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS), and federal programs. Providers may hold multiple licenses and across multiple state Departments, and, in some cases, federal Head Start as well. Information and resources provided in this guide are to support these diverse programs. Each program should follow their licensure requirements as a baseline requirement. ment for teachers and directors in areas relevant to staff well-being

Coaching Resources

Contact your local Early Learning Resource Center (ELRC) or Quality Coach. Your Quality Coach can help you identify the challenge(s), review assessments, locate resources, work through next steps, and develop action plans. They can also connect you with other support systems or technical assistance supports available to you.

Find your ELRC Quality Coach (via dhs.pa.gov).

If you receive Pre-K Counts or Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program funding you can reach out to your Preschool Program Specialists. The Preschool Program Specialist can provide similar supports as the Quality Coach.

Find your Preschool Program Specialist (via pakeys.org).

Developing Suspension and Expulsion Policies

It is essential all young children can both access and remain in a quality early learning program. In July 2017, Pennsylvania early learning programs were informed of the requirement to develop program specific policies to prevent, reduce and ultimately eliminate suspension and expulsion of young children from their programs.

Suspension and expulsion are actions adults take that greatly impact children. We can work together to make sure both children and teachers have the support they need to build great relationships and remain a part of their early learning community.

Suspension: An action that is administered in response to challenging behavior and requires that a child not be present in the classroom or the program for a specified period.

Expulsion: The complete and permanent removal of a child from an early learning program in response to challenging behavior or non-infectious health condition. Addressing Suspension and Expulsion in Early Childhood Education Settings: An Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Informed Approach

  • Fair and Appropriate Policies. It is essential all your program’s policies follow the law
  • Highly Skilled Work Force.Teachers need support through education and technical assistance
  • Strong Family Partnerships.Families and early learning programs are partners in supporting children
  • Setting Goals and Tracking Data.Understand the full picture in your program
  • Universal Screening.Ensure all children have the supports they need and deserve
  • Access to Consultation.Additional support for early learning programs is available

What to do when you have a child with unique needs/challenging behavior?

Effective 8/1/2020, to request assistance from OCDEL, complete the online form at surveymonkey.com/r/PAExpulsionHelp.

If you have a pre-existing or established relationship with your local Early Learning Resource Center, please reach out to them directly to receive program support.

If the child is already receiving EI Services:

With parent permission, reach out to the child’s local EI program to request assistance.

An IFSP/IEP meeting will be held within 10 Early Intervention Program calendar days of request. If behavior has not previously been identified as special consideration, it must be added to the IFSP/IEP. The IFSP/IEP team will work with the family and early learning program to review and potentially revise the child’s plan.

If the child has not previously been evaluated and the family and/or Early Learning program believes (s)he might be eligible for EI:

Work with the child’s family to schedule an EI evaluation. To identify to whom the child should be referred, call the CONNECT line at 1-800-692-7288. If the child is eligible, the family is then encouraged to involve the early care provider in planning meetings. If the child is not eligible for services, the EI evaluator and the EC program should assist the family in accessing other services and/or provide some strategy suggestions.

If the child has previously been evaluated and does not qualify for EI:

Request assistance from the Early Learning Resource Center to receive appropriate supports.

Tier 1: Support for Developing Program-wide Practices and Policies

1.3 Integrate developmental screening and assessment into the program/school

Utilize screening results to inform need for referral to additional services such as Early Intervention.

1.6 Create a culture of support and collaboration among staff

Coaching supports can be requested to support the leadership in identifying and developing their desired culture.

Tier 2: Support for Classroom Practices and Policies

2.2 Support teachers/providers to modify the classroom environment to prevent challenging behaviors

Tier 3: Supports for Working with Individual Children & Families

3.1 Establish and implement a process for providing children who exhibit persistent challenging behavior with an assessment-based behavior support plan.

If the child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Individualized Family Support Plan (IFSP) a team meeting must be requested before considering exclusionary discipline practices such as suspension and/or expulsion. Contact the child’s Early Intervention program or CONNECT Helpline: 1-800-692-7288 or email help@connectpa.net.

Strengthen referral pathways with community supports, such as Early Intervention (EI), Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH) Consultation, and Behavioral Health, for children, families, and program staff. o Become familiar with the process and timeline families/staff may encounter when accessing these services. o Invite community speakers to present their services and process to staff and families to increase awareness.

Definitions and Program Descriptions

Behavioral Health: The Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services System (OMHSAS) Children’s Bureau, in conjunction with your local Children’s Behavioral Health office, is responsible for developing and implementing a comprehensive plan for serving children with behavioral health needs in the Commonwealth.

Early Intervention (EI): Children from birth to age five who have special needs due to developmental delays and disabilities are eligible to receive Early Intervention services. This includes children with persistent challenging behaviors who have not responded to Tier 1 and Tier 2 supports.

Early Learning Resource Center (ELRC): An ELRC is a partner with the PA Office of Child Development and Early Learning. The ELRC provides quality supports for early learning programs and helps families access high quality early learning programs.

Expulsion: Expulsion is the complete and permanent removal of a child from an early childhood program because of challenging behavior or non-infectious health condition.

Head Start: Head Start is primarily a federally-funded program that provides education, health and social services to families with children aged 3, 4 and 5. Head Start programs cannot expel or unenroll a child because of a child’s behavior. Head Start programs must prohibit or severely limit the use of suspension due to a child’s behavior.

Home Visiting: Home Visiting in Pennsylvania is voluntary, family-focused services for pregnant and parenting families with new babies and young children. There are multiple statewide programs available including: Early Head Start, Family Check-Up, Healthy Families America, Nurse-Family Partnership, and Parents as Teachers.

Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP): An Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) is a plan that identifies services and supports so that family members and early education programs are actively engaged in promoting the child’s (ages 0-2) learning and development.

Individualized Education Program (IEP): The Individualized Education Program is a plan that identifies services and supports so that family members and early education programs are actively engaged in promoting the child’s (ages 3-5) learning and development.

Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (IECMHC): IECMHC is a free resource that supports children’s social-emotional development from birth through age 5 within early learning programs participating in Keystone STARS.

Keystone STARS: Keystone STARS is Pennsylvania’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). Keystone STARS is a responsive system to improve, support, and recognize the continuous quality improvement efforts of early learning programs in Pennsylvania.

Pre-K Counts (PKC): Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts provides quality half-day and full-day prekindergarten. Pre-K Counts is designed for children who: Are between age 3 and until the entry age for kindergarten; Are at risk of school failure and living in families earning up to 300 percent of the federal income poverty level; who may also be English language learners or have special needs.

Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL): The Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) is a collaborative effort between the PA Department of Education and the PA Department of Human Services focused on creating opportunities for the commonwealth’s youngest citizens to develop and learn to their fullest potential.

Suspension: Suspension is an action that is administered as a consequence of a child’s inappropriate behavior and requires that a child not be present in the classroom or the program for a specified period of time.


Morris, C. A., Denham, S. A., Bassett, H. H., & Curby, T. W. (2013). Relations among teachers’ emotion socialization beliefs and practices and preschoolers’ emotional competence. Early Education & Development, 24(7), 979-999.

Smith, S., & Lawrence, S. M. (2019). Early care and education teacher well-being: Associations with children’s experience, outcomes, and workplace conditions: A research-to-policy brief. Whittaker, J. E., & Harden, B. J. (2010).

Beyond ABCs and 123s: Enhancing Teacher–Child Relationship Quality to Promote Children’s Behavioral Development. NHSA Dialog, 13(3), 185-191.


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