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Education & Pushout

Girls of color face disproportionate rates of suspension, expulsion, and arrests on campus, resulting in a system that criminalizes girls of color rather than providing a healing space for girls to focus, learn, and grow. In response to this crisis, the Center has made the criminalization and pushout of girls of color from school a main area of focus.

About Our Work on
Education & Pushout

Recognizing and Addressing Trauma in Schools
Girls whose behavior is rooted in trauma are often punished in schools. Rather than addressing the cause of their symptoms, schools react by suspending and expelling girls – especially girls of color. We work to inform educators how to implement trauma-informed practices that reach girls of color. To that end, the Center founded the Schools for Girls of Color Learning Network, which is co-led by the National Black Women’s Justice Institute. The Learning Network has over 1,250 members across 46 states and the District of Columbia; it offers regular webinars, trainings, and office hours with experts. The Learning Network grew out of an event the Center co-hosted at the White House with the Council on Women and Girls on Trauma-Informed Approaches in School: Supporting Girls of Color and Rethinking School Discipline.

We also focus on increasing girls’ access to mental healthcare in school. In an exploration of how schools can offer more accessible mental health services for girls of color, we released issue briefs authored by Dr. Kimberlyn Leary examining the challenges and value of school-based health centers.

Reducing Punitive Treatment of Black Girls in Schools
Even when trauma is not a root cause, girls of color are disproportionately disciplined and excluded from schools. According to the US Department of Education, Black girls are five times more likely to be suspended from school than white girls. And they are often disciplined for subjectively determined offenses, such as dress code violations or disrupting schools.

We worked with our partners at NYU RISE research team to analyze discipline disparities among girls, based on the most recently released data from the US Department of Education’s CDRC. We found that girls of color are at a far higher risk of discipline in schools—more so than boys of color. Black girls, in particular, are restrained and transferred to alternative schools at alarmingly disproportionate rates. Exclusionary discipline is strongly associated with decreasing student wellness, including increased disengagement, feelings of stress and isolation, poorer academic achievement, and increased likelihood of involvement with the legal system.

In research led by Dr. Jamilia Blake of Texas A&M University, then a Senior Scholar at the Center, we identified adultification bias as one potential causal factor for this

Girls in school

punitive treatment. Educators with biased perceptions of Black girls’ lack of innocence may hold Black girls to a more adult-like standard, making them more likely to interpret behavior as requiring punishment rather than leniency.

The criminalization of girls of color has been exacerbated by the increased presence of police in schools. We are examining how to reduce and ultimately eliminate school police, who often make girls of color feel less safe on campus. While these officers remain in place, we have provided guidance to improve interactions between police and girls of color. In “Be Her Resource: A Toolkit About School Resource Officers and Girls of Color”, co-authored with Dr. Monique W. Morris, we offer tools to reduce the harm that school police can represent to girls of color, based on qualitative research we conducted in the south with police and with girls of color.

NOTE: This toolkit should not be misinterpreted as an endorsement of the need for police in our schools. To the contrary, in a more ideal world — one in which schools implement a robust range of responses to students, especially those who exhibit symptoms of trauma — law enforcement would not be a consistent presence in schools. The toolkit is offered in recognition of today’s reality.

Solutions Moving Forward
We are examining alternatives to exclusionary school discipline to improve schools’ support of girls of color, including restorative practices. For more information, see our restorative practices issue area page.

Schools for Girls of Color Learning Network

This free membership platform informs school leaders, educators, and others how to provide more accessible, supportive learning spaces for girls of color.

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