School is difficult for many kids for myriad reasons. But, if you’re a black girl, research shows school may be even harder for you. Black girls are disproportionately punished for “attitude” issues and minor rule violations far more frequently than their white counterparts. This can have long-term effects not only on their learning, but their lives.
The stereotype that black female students are angry or aggressive is permeating schools and being reflected in via discipline. According to a report by the African American Policy Forum, black girls are often punished for being candid and assertive, which can include talking back to teachers or using profanity.
The issue is that these behaviors are disciplined more frequently and severely than they are in white female students. The National Women’s Law Center reports black girls are 5.5 times as likely to be suspended than white girls, 6.1 times more likely to be expelled and 2.5 times more likely to be expelled without educational services.
Exclusionary discipline, like suspension or expulsion, is a dangerous thing, as reported by Parentology earlier this year. The US Commission on Civil Rights recently released a report cautioning that in excess, these disciplines can leave students feeling disconnected: “students not only miss valuable instruction time, but they also lose a sense of belonging and engagement in school.”
These students are more likely to be retained a grade, drop out of school or enter the juvenile justice system. The disproportionate punishment of black girls can directly impact their future, perpetuating the school-to-prison pipeline.
While the first step is identifying the problem of racial bias in schools, researchers also suggest that part of the solution is an increase in school counselors. Schools without a counselor show much higher discipline rates of minority students. Moreover, school counselors are trained to work with students and teachers to resolve conflicts.
“School counselors are trained in consultation and mediation,” Melissa Mariani, Ph.D and Associate Professor of Counselor Education at Florida Atlantic University tells Parentology. Counselors are also able to determine if disruptive behaviors are a sign of something more significant going on with a student.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention states “We believe that the needs of girls must be addressed in a developmentally appropriate manner. This means recognizing a young woman’s diverse pathways into and across systems and reducing her involvement so only those who pose a serious threat to public safety enter the juvenile justice system.”
Early intervention for those girls experiencing true behavioral issues and appropriate and equal punishments are believed to be the first step in breaking the cycle of exclusionary discipline.
Racial Bias in Schools — Sources
Melissa Mariani, Ph.D and Associate Professor of Counselor Education at Florida Atlantic University
National Women’s Law Center
African American Policy Forum
U.S.Commission on Civil Rights
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention