Schools Get an ‘F’ in Equality

Elementary school student working at desk.

Though the spread of COVID-19 has put the physical act of going to school on a temporary hiatus, students will be returning to their classrooms eventually. When they do, girls of colors will experience unfair treatment, discrimination, and physical punishment at alarmingly high rates—just as they did before the pandemic. Racism in the American education system causes schools to disproportionately push out Black girls and feeds into the school-to-prison pipeline. Instead of prioritizing their safety and security, schools have taken to criminalizing Black girls.

Research from Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality found that Black girls are viewed as “less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers” by adults, especially in the age range of 5 – 14. Due to race and gender stereotypes, adults see Black girls as needing less protection and less support than other students. If Black girls are seen as more independent and adult-like, they are then unlikely to be given the same type of leadership opportunities or supportive resources in school that white students receive. By being perceived as adults, they are also more likely to be subjected to severe disciplinary practices.

According to experts, Black girls do not misbehave any more than white girls in school, yet are faced with more harsh and extreme punishments for the same type of behavior. In U.S. public schools, Black girls are six times more likely to be suspended than white girls, four times more likely to be arrested, and three times more likely to be restrained and referred to law enforcement (US Department of Education office for Civil Rights). Though this treatment feeds into the school-to-prison pipeline theory, efforts to combat the pipeline “often fail to include Black girls”, according to the Center for American Progress.

Their punitive treatment is damaging to their educational experience, their physical and mental well-being, and their self-identity. “They’re not allowed just to be and learn and heal and be girls,” author and filmmaker Monique Morris told USA Today. Morris’s recent documentary Pushout is a call to action to end the criminalization of Black girls in schools. Pushout makes clear that we are failing Black girls by not valuing and supporting them. It seeks to draw attention to this often overlooked subject, and offers insight into policy recommendations to correct it. Recognizing and discussing biases and racism in the classroom is the first step in producing change. When Black girls return to school, they deserve to feel supported and protected.

Take Action! For more information on the criminalization of Black girls in school, go to Pushout’s official website. Be sure to check out this page to find local listings of the documentary.