More than 30 infants were suspended from Philadelphia schools last term under a new zero-tolerance policy on unruly behaviour. This compares to just one in the corresponding period of 2001, it has emerged.
The sanction was invoked for incidents ranging from hitting a pregnant teacher and indecent exposure to stabbing a classmate with a pencil. The culprits were five years old or younger.
Philadelphia officials tout the drastic measure as an effective tool in cracking down on classroom violence, but critics have branded it draconian and an ineffective deterrent, as infants are unlikely to make the connection between a 10-day expulsion and misbehaving at school.
The zero-tolerance approach to indiscipline in US schools has been spearheaded by Connecticut, which suspended 311 children from kindergarten in 1999-2000. But the policy has raised hackles after the punishments were broken down by race and gender. It transpired that nearly 52 per cent of those penalised were black, 35 per cent Hispanic and just 12 per cent white. Some 79 per cent of those suspended were boys.
Another grievance is that such policies absolve schools of blame, palming off problem children on the troubled communities and broken homes from which they typically come.