Last week in Washington, DC, the City Council began considering a bill that would ban suspensions of pre-schoolers. While the pre-school set can get up to a fair amount of rowdiness, we should wonder why pre-schoolers might ever be suspended and what kind of interventions could alter this reality. A close look at the data shows that it is primarily black preschoolers who are being suspended and that that group is about 60 percent male and 40 percent female. Legal Momentum has previously pointed out that African American girls are disciplined at the highest rates for girls and at rates higher than all groups of boys, except African American boys. We have also suggested that as a consequence, the scope of the “My Brother’s Keeper,” initiative being undertaken by the White House should include the needs and disparities confronted by young women of color as well as those of young men.
We’re excited about the release of the new report, Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, Underprotected because it offers specifics about the experience and needs of young black girls and other girls of color, and also because it makes a series of much-needed recommendations specific to the experiences of those girls and young women.
We’d like to focus on three of the problems highlighted in the report, all of which not only place obstacles in the path of educational attainment for young women of color, but also violate Title IX and other federal civil rights statutes:
- Pregnancy and parenting make it difficult for girls to engage fully in school. The report explains that only half of teen mothers finish high school by age 22. The young women interviewed expressed a variety of concerns, from unsafe school environments to being talked about or otherwise harassed by peers. These concerns mirror those that Legal Momentum sees in its work with pregnant and parenting teens. Title IX bars harassment or discrimination in education on the basis of sex. More can and should be done to support girls who are trying to complete school. We created this guide to help.
- Over-sanctioning: The report’s data demonstrates that girls and young women of color are being subjected to levels of sanctions—including corporal punishment, suspension, and expulsion—that are wildly disproportionate to their representation in the school system. For example, in Baltimore and Detroit, where there were more than 100 school- related arrests of African American girls, no white girls were arrested. Similar disparities exist with regard to expulsions in many school systems, including in Memphis, New York City and Chicago. Pushing girls and young women out of the school system, whether because of their race, their sex, or both, violates federal civil rights laws (Titles IV, VI and IX). It also deprives young women of educational opportunities and often introduces them to the “school to prison pipeline.”
- The role of violence: the report also reveals that school-age African American girls and young women of color can be adversely affected by the prevalence of violence in their lives. The statistics bear out that young women of color struggle with disproportionately high levels of violence, particularly child sexual abuse. Lingering issues with trauma, or trauma that has gone undiagnosed, can adversely affect young women’s ability to succeed in school.
Legal Momentum commends the report to you in its entirety, but echoes its recommendations on some key points:
- As we continue to assess ways that law enforcement, the educational system, and other systems can adversely affect the lives of young men of color, the report demonstrates that young women of color are adversely impacted too, and are equally deserving of the attention of policymakers, legislators, and researchers.
- Where the ability to fund new initiatives or programs in under-resourced schools or at-risk communities exists, girls and young women should be eligible to participate in the programming on a equitable basis.
- The role of the U.S. Department of Education is crucial both with respect to the production of school-related data that is disaggregated by both gender and race, and for strong enforcement of our civil rights laws to serve as a buffer between students and many of the types of adverse treatment described in this report. Congress should appropriate adequate funds to ensure that these tasks can be carried out consistently and comprehensively.
Contributed by Vice President for Government Relations Lisalyn R. Jacobs