A new state panel Friday was surprised to learn the depth of Louisiana's student discipline problems, including the revelation that nearly 8,000 students from pre-kindergarten through third grade were tossed out of public schools.
That list includes 1,050 kindergarten students who were handed out-of-school suspensions during the 2015-16 school year.
Nearly 60,000 students were suspended statewide, mostly minorities and students from low-income families.
"I am absolutely shocked that you can have a kindergartener that has an experienced an out-of-school suspension," said Sherlyn Shumbert of Baton Rouge, a member of the Advisory Council on Student Behavior and Discipline.
The 24-member committee stems from a 2016 state law.
The group is supposed to study school discipline policies, then provide annual reports to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and legislative committees.
The topic has sparked disputes in the Legislature, including efforts to ban suspensions for the youngest students.
But others said the discipline is understandable, and that it would be a mistake to curb the authority of educators.
Roy McCoy, principal of Beekman Charter School in Bastrop said it is possible for even a four or five-year-old "to do something so egregious" that it requires an out-of-school suspension.
"I don't want to see us tie a school district's hands," McCoy told the group.
Shumbert questioned the effect of forcing young students out of the classroom.
"What is the negative impact this will have on a child when they continue their education?" she asked.
Jennifer Coco, a New Orleans attorney who was elected chairwoman of the council, questioned the benefits of suspensions.
"These to me are children who need help," said Coco, a staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
She said early help is needed to prevent students from becoming suspension statistics later in their education.
Erin Bendily, assistant state superintendent of education, said the issue has sparked arguments on the autonomy of school districts versus the need for better options than suspensions.
"This has been a hot topic in the Legislature," Bendily said.
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She said lawmakers have focused on "what is a seven-year-old doing to be sent home?"
According to a state survey, 181 pre-K students were tossed out of school during the previous school year; 1,744 first graders; 2,147 second graders 2,723 third graders.
Education is considered especially crucial for students in grades K-3.
The chief reasons for the discipline are willful disobedience, injurious conduct, fighting, violating rules and treating those in authority with disrespect.
Of the nearly 60,000 students sent home, 41,103 were black students and 16,831 were white students, according to state figures.
"Those disciplined were disproportionately low-income, minority and disabled," the report says.
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The 2016 state law, which was sponsored by Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, requires school districts to come up with master plans for improving behavior and discipline in schools.
Those plans can include better mental health services at schools, improved classroom management and revising zero tolerance policies on discipline rules.
The council is required to meet three times per year, meaning two more sessions in 2016.
McCoy said the review might go on for two or three years.
"Rome wasn't built in a day, and this is going to take time," he said.