Head Start Policy and Regulations

Expulsion and Suspension Policy Statement

U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services

Administration for Children and Families

1. Log Number: ACF-IM-HS-16-01
2. Issuance Date: 11/07/2016
3. Originating Office: Office of Head Start (OHS); Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary’s Office on Early Childhood Development
4. Key Words: Head Start; Expulsion and Suspension; Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Development

Information Memorandum

To: Head Start and Early Head Start Grantees and Delegates, and Other Interested Parties

Subject: Expulsion and Suspension Policy Statement



This Information Memorandum highlights new requirements in the Head Start Program Performance Standards related to expulsion and suspension. It also encourages Head Start grantees and delegates to adopt practices set forth in the Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension in Early Childhood Settings issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Appendices 1 and 2 offer free resources grantees can use in their implementation efforts.


The Head Start Program Performance Standards (2016) prohibit programs from expelling or un-enrolling children from Head Start because of a child’s behavior in 45 CFR §1302.17. These Standards also require programs to prohibit or severely limit the use of suspension due to a child’s behavior. Programs are required to partner with families, consult with specialists, help the child and family obtain additional services as appropriate, and take all possible steps to ensure the child’s successful participation in the program.

Aligned with the Head Start Program Performance Standards, HHS and ED released a joint policy statement [PDF, 189KB] with state and local recommendations to address expulsion and suspension in early learning settings, including in Head Start programs. The policy statement affirms the Departments’ efforts to prevent and eventually eliminate expulsion and suspension in all early childhood settings and support young children’s social, emotional, and behavioral development. The policy statement also provides information about resources that are available at no cost to programs.

Neuroscientists agree that the first five years of a child’s life are critical for building the foundation of learning, health, and wellness needed for success in school and later in life. While access to high-quality early learning can have important benefits on children’s development and learning, expulsion and suspension from such programs can have detrimental effects, particularly on children’s social and emotional development and learning outcomes. Expulsion and suspension are stressful and negative experiences for children, their families, and their teachers and can negatively affect child development and outcomes. Research indicates that expulsion and suspension early in a child’s life predicts expulsion and suspension later in school. Children who are expelled or suspended from school are as much as 10 times more likely to drop out of high school, experience academic failure, hold negative school attitudes, and face incarceration than those who were never suspended or expelled.

Furthermore, data consistently show racial disparities in expulsion and suspension. For example, recent data from ED’s Office of Civil Rights indicate that African-American boys make up 19 percent of preschool enrollment, but 45 percent of preschoolers suspended. African-American girls represent 20 percent of female preschool enrollment, but 54 percent of female preschoolers suspended.2

Though each case is different, suspensions and expulsions may be products of misguided or absent policies and/or insufficient training and support services for staff, especially in managing challenging behavior, recognizing trauma, and promoting social and emotional development. Research indicates that disparities in these practices may be influenced by implicit biases, uneven implementation of discipline policies, and under-resourced, inadequate education and training for teachers, especially in self-reflective strategies to identify and correct potential biases in perceptions and practice.


Aligned with the new requirements on expulsion and suspension found at 45 CFR §1302.17 of the Head Start Program Performance Standards, grantees are encouraged to implement the following recommendations included in the HHS and ED federal policy statement. A brief summary of program-level recommendations is below, but we urge grantees to read the Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension in Early Childhood Settings [PDF, 189KB] in its entirety.

  1. Develop and Clearly Communicate Preventive Guidance and Discipline Practices: Programs should establish developmentally appropriate social, emotional, and behavioral health promotion practices, as well as discipline and intervention procedures. These practices and procedures should be clearly communicated to all staff, families, and community partners, and implemented consistently and without bias or discrimination. Preventive and discipline practices should be used as learning opportunities to guide children’s appropriate behavioral development, and distinct attention should be paid to the developmental appropriateness of both behavioral expectations and consequences for challenging behavior.
  2. Develop and Clearly Communicate Expulsion and Suspension Policies: Head Start grantees and delegates are required to implement expulsion and suspension policies consistent with the Head Start Program Performance Standards at 45 CFR §1302.17, such that expulsions are prohibited and suspensions are prohibited or severely restricted.
  3. Access Technical Assistance and Workforce Development to Prevent Expulsion and Suspension: All program staff should have a strong set of skills to support children’s social, emotional, and behavioral development. Programs should also ensure that teachers have support from specialists or consultants, such as early childhood mental health consultants, behavioral coaches, school counselors, or special educators. Head Start programs should also promote teacher health and wellness and ensure that teachers work reasonable hours with breaks and have access to social services, health, and mental health supports, as needed.
  4. Set Goals for Improvement and Analyze Data to Assess Progress: Programs should set goals to optimally support children’s social, emotional, and behavioral development, monitor data to assess progress, and modify their practices and investment, as needed, to reach their goals.
  5. Access Free Resources to Develop and Scale Best Practices: Programs should access free resources to assist in eliminating suspensions and expulsions in early childhood settings. The Administration for Children and Families' (ACF) new Training and Technical Assistance System provides resources and training on a variety of issues, including those related to suspension and expulsion; children’s health and well-being; and development, teaching, and learning. Many of those resources can be found on the Early Childhood Learning Knowledge Center (ECLKC) website. Additional resources to support children’s social and emotional development can also be found at the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundation for Early Learning and at the Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention websites. The HHS-funded Center of Excellence for Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation website will offer a comprehensive toolkit on building early childhood mental health consultation systems in the fall of 2016. Appendices 1 and 2 provide several free resources that programs and families can access to address expulsion and suspension practices.

Please contact your Office of Head Start Regional Office for more information.

/ Blanca E. Enriquez /

Blanca E. Enriquez
Office of Head Start

See PDF Version of Information Memorandum:

1U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Education Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension Policies in Early Childhood Settings (2014). ODAS, ECD-ACF-PS-2016-01. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/ecd/expulsion_ps_numbered.pdf [PDF, 189KB]

2U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (2016). A First Look: Key data highlights on equity and opportunity gaps in our nation’s public schools.

Historical Document