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Black girls should matter, too

By George E. Curry/NNPA Columnist
On February 23, 2015

The report shows there is a need to focus on minority girls at a disadvantage.

(NNPA) – According to a report by the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) Black girls disproportionately suffer from punitive school disciplinary policies and actions, yet society fails to take note of their plight because attention is focused on Black males who get trapped in the school-to-prison pipeline. 

AAPF, a New York-based national think tank, released a report titled “Black Girls Matter: Pushed-Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected,” which asserts that anyone who doubts that Black girls are being severely disciplined for minor infractions in school need to look no further than reporting in their local media to learn otherwise.

“In 2007, a 6-year-old girl was arrested in a Florida classroom for having a tantrum. Later that year, a 16-year-old girl was arrested in a California school for dropping cake on the floor and failing to pick it up to a school officer’s satisfaction.

In 2014, a 12-year-old girl faced expulsion and criminal charges after writing ‘hi’ on a locker room wall of her Georgia middle school, and a Detroit honors student was suspended for the entire senior year for accidently bringing a pocketknife to a football game,” noted the report.

The U.S. Department of Education reported last March that for the 2011-2012 school year, “Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than White students. On average, 5 percent of White students are suspended, compared to 16 percent of Black students.

While boys receive more than two out of three suspensions, Black girls are suspended at higher rates (12 percent) than girls of any other race or ethnicity and most boys.”

That disproportionate pattern begins at an early age. According to the Department of Education, Black children represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment but 48 percent of preschool children received more than one out of school suspension. On the other hand, White students represented 43 percent of preschool enrollment but only 26 percent of preschool children received more than one out of school suspension.

The African American Policy Forum report grew out of a 2012 conference it convened on girls of color at the UCLA Law School.

“Girls have rarely been included in either the discussions about exclusionary disciplinary policies or the broader concerns about the underachievement of youth of color,” the report stated. “Yet the data suggest that Black girls face a variety of factors – historical, institutional, and social – that heighten their risk of underachievement and detachment from school, as well as the lifelong consequences of dropping out.” Among the report’s observations were the following:

  • Increased levels of law enforcement and security personnel sometimes make girls feel less safe and therefore less likely to attend school.
  • Black girls sometimes get less attention than males because they are perceived as more socially mature and self-reliant.
  • Conflicts better addressed through counseling are too frequently referred to the juvenile justice system.
  • Failure of schools to intervene in instances of physical or sexual harassment of girls contributes to their insecurity at school.
  • School-age Black girls experience a high incidence of personal violence.
  • Girls are often burdened with family obligations that undermine their capacity to achieve their goals. 
  • Pregnancy and parenting make it difficult for girls to engage fully in school.

Recommendations for solving these issues include:

  • Providing funding programs that serve the needs of women and girls, as well as men and boys.
  • Creating an environment where students are free of sexual harassment. 
  • Devising programs that help identify and assist students who have been sexually victimized or traumatized by violence..
  • Offering support programs for pregnant girls or mothers with young children.
  • Mobilizing the public to help address the challenges facing young girls.

Authors of the report funded by the Schott Foundation stated, “This modest but long-overdue effort to cast light onto the lives of marginalized girls should be replicated and expanded across the nation.

Ideally, the conversation ‘Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected’ engenders within communities and among philanthropists, policy makers, stakeholders, and advocates will lead to the inclusion of girls in efforts to address school discipline, pushout, and the pathways to incarceration, poverty, and low-wage work. We are hopeful that ongoing efforts to resolve the crisis facing boys of color will open up opportunities to examine the challenges facing their female counterparts.”

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