Calming the Perfect Storm: Six Ways to Change Portland’s Practice of School Suspension and Expulsion


Calming the Perfect Storm: Six Ways to Change the Practice of School Suspensions and Expulsions

Hadiyah Miller is tackling a complex problem. 

“It reminds me of a tornado,” says Miller, an early childhood education consultant at Multnomah County Childcare Resource and Referral.  “It’s growing and there are a lot of pieces in the air.”

Miller is talking about school suspension and expulsion, which disproportionately impacts children of color from a very young age. In 2016, an estimated 50,000 preschoolers were suspended at least once, another 17,000 or so preschoolers are estimated to have been expelled, the Center for American Progress found. Black children are 2.2 times more likely to be suspended or expelled than other children. While boys represent 51 percent of the preschool population, they receive 82 percent of the suspensions and expulsions.

A tornado of factors—from bias to poverty to cultural communication gaps to lack of teaching supports—combine into a perfect storm that puts black boys at the greatest risk of being excluded from early learning opportunities.

Miller, and her colleagues on Portland’s Black Child Development Council are working to calm that storm. Miller, and her colleagues on Portland's Black Child Development Council are working to calm that storm.

“I look at it historically,” says Miller. “This is a way, particularly for early childhood education, to unpack historic marginalization and oppression. This is a way to make changes that are going to allow parents to have voices and allow children to meet their full potential.”

Miller brings over twenty years of ECE expertise to the challenge of suspension and expulsion—and a decades-long commitment to social justice.  BCD-PDX also includes the expertise of a family childcare provider and a parent. The work is sponsored by Early Learning Multnomah. Here are six ways that Miller and the BCD-PDX are already making change—join them and take action, too.


Recognize Bias Last October, BCD-PDX offered local educators implicit bias training at the  Oregon Association for the Education of Young Children Fall Community Conference. They included lessons and understanding of how bias can shape the teaching relationship, and create unintended consequences for students and their families. Oregon educators are hungry for the information that BCD-PDX had to share. “People are passionate and really want to do differently,” says Miller. “They don’t have the tools or the person to walk them through how to do that.” BCD-PDX will  continue to offer those tools to our teaching community.

Celebrate the Black Child. BCD-PDX is planning an event for the Week of the Black Child to be held mid-May. Keep an eye out for this event—or plan a celebration in your community.

Make structural change. By focusing on change to policy, BCD-PDX aims to make structural change for all children.  They hope to add laws and protections at a state level. “In Washington and California they have it on the books that you cannot expel kids,” explains Miller. “We’re looking at how we do that in Oregon.” In California, it will soon be illegal for schools to suspend disruptive students from kindergarten through eighth grade. In Washington, state law limits when suspensions and expulsions can be used. 

Know when it’s time to advocate for the kids in your classrooms. When a child is being sidelined or marginalized, it is time to intervene on their behalf, explains Miller. This can look quite concrete, children may be spending large amounts of time outside the classroom, in time outs or punishments. Families may be asked to reduce the hours that children attend preschool, perhaps half days, or only part of the week. “That’s when intervention needs to happen, when it starts,” says Miller.  “It builds and it grows and that impacts the family—that’s when support needs to happen.”

Advocate for your educators. It is time consuming to change attitudes, build new skill sets and repair challenging relationships with students and families. Teachers need support—in the form of resources, time, education, and mentoring to make real change. “We don’t have enough wrap around services to support teachers or to support families around these issues,” says Miller.


Join us! On Friday, Feb. 21st at 5:30, Black Child Development-PDX is hosting a launch mixer for the black community and allies to meet the leadership team, discuss what’s been happening, and learn how to support and join the work. To be held at 5033 N. Vancouver Ave. RSVP HERE