This New Bill Aims To Address The Disproportionate Discipline of Black Girls in Schools

Supermajority Education Fund

December 12, 2019

Black girls are seven times more likely to be suspended from school and four times more likely to be arrested at school compared to white girls. The Ending PUSHOUT Act was introduced on Dec. 5 by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) to address how over-policing in schools disproportionately impacts Black girls. 

“Not only are our girls carrying trauma from their personal lives when they enter school, but far too many schools have become a place that criminalizes and harms girls of color,” the congresswoman said in a statement

According to Fordham Law School professor Leah A. Hill, Black girls are over-disciplined for reasons that include their increased likeliness of attending under-resourced schools, and frequently being taught by instructors who are unprepared to handle diverse populations.

Nationwide, black girls are far more likely than any other demographic to be disciplined in school. They are more likely to be suspended, more likely to receive corporal punishment, more likely to be physically restrained, more likely to be referred to law enforcement, more likely to be arrested, more likely to be bullied on account of race, etc.,” Hill told Supermajority News. “These facts hold in all regions of the country and in public and charter schools alike.”

One way the PUSHOUT Act which stands for Ending Punitive, Unfair, School-based Harm that is Overt and Unresponsive to Trauma would combat this problem is by establishing $2.5 billion in new federal grants that would support states that commit to banning discriminatory disciplinary policies and safeguarding the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. The Department of Education would additionally receive $2.5 billion to continue to collect data on civil rights cases in schools while also ensuring established nondiscriminatory policies are enforced.

Currently, schools have tremendous leeway when it comes to interpreting established disciplinary policies. “For example, ‘engaging in verbally rude or disrespectful behavior’ is an infraction in many school districts,” Hill noted. “One can imagine a student in a privileged environment who is viewed as precocious for questioning a teacher’s authority or opinion; on the flip side, one can easily imagine a Black girl in an urban school district facing discipline for that same behavior.”

Dress code enforcement is often similarly subjective. “Hairstyles and forms of dress that do not conform to white cultural norms are targeted under these rules,” Hill said. “Many disciplinary codes also give school authorities wide latitude in deciding what level of discipline should be imposed in any given circumstance.”

It is for those reasons that many community organizations that have long worked to make school safer for Black girls are speaking out in support of the legislation. “Harsh and discriminatory dress codes, unnecessary and excessive corporal punishment, and sexual harassment are all contributors to school pushout,” Joanne N. Smith, the president of Girls for Gender Equity, told Supermajority News. “Black girls have the right to a safe and just education.”