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Minneapolis Public Schools halts suspensions for youngest students

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Superintendent  Bernadeia Johnson
Minneapolis Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson talks with a reporter after an interview on Oct. 12, 2010.
Tom Weber / MPR News 2010

Updated 2 p.m.

The Minneapolis Public Schools superintendent has declared a moratorium on suspending very young students for non-violent behavior.

The change was announced to staff on Thursday. It will immediately affect students in prekindergarten, kindergarten and first grade.

Related
• Superintendent Johnson talks about the change on The Daily Circuit
• Eyeing racial disparities, schools trying to cut down on suspensions
• Mpls. tackles high rate of African-American student suspensions  

Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson said in a statement released Friday that the moratorium was part of the district's effort to reduce suspensions. 

"For some of our youngest scholars, this is their first time in a structured learning environment," Johnson said. "Understanding and navigating the new rules and environment simply takes longer for some students than for others."

The policy is part of the district's new behavior standards, which will be implemented over the next year. 

The district has faced criticism over achievement gaps between white and black students. There's also a big gap in who gets punished in Minneapolis schools.

One in five African-American boys are suspended on average each year versus one in 29 white boys. The district also recently created an Office of Black Male Student Achievement in an attempt to address the disparities.

Lynn Nordgren, president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, said teachers support reducing suspensions but were surprised when the ban was announced.      

"We wish we would have had a little more time to let the behavior policy get up and going and implemented," she said, adding "there's a feeling of pressure to work on suspensions." 

District officials say they're working with school leaders on how best to handle student behavior without suspensions. 

Similar moratoriums have been put in place at North View Junior High in the Osseo district, and the FAIR integration district in Minneapolis and Crystal.