Excerpted From: Brazitte A. Poole, The School of Hard Knocks: Examining How Pennsylvania School Disciplinary Policies Push Black Girls into the Criminal Justice System, 57 Duquesne Law Review 382 (Summer, 2019) (Student Article) (265 Footnotes) (Full Document Not Available)
Currently, there is immense discussion regarding the “pipeline framework” of the School-to-Prison Pipeline epidemic; however, there is a demographic that is conspicuously missing from the discussion: Black girls. Harsh school disciplinary policies and discriminatory law enforcement policies intersect, feeding children into the criminal justice system. While dialogue regarding the criminalization of all children through inappropriate school discipline is vital, and arguably overdue, the current conversation heavily focuses on challenges faced by Black boys and other boys of color. While Black boys are more likely to be suspended than any other student group, recent studies show that Black girls are being suspended at increasing rates throughout the country. However, due to the disparity in the discipline of boys and girls and the non-traditional forms of confinement girls face, Black girls are often excluded from the School-to-Prison Pipeline discussion. As a result, the ways that Black girls are marginalized by disciplinary tactics used in schools is obscured. Recently, in the report Race, Gender, and the School to Prison Pipeline: Expanding Our Discussion to Include Black Girls, researcher Monique Morris analyzed how Black girls are impacted by criminalizing policies, many of which take place in an environment that should serve as a safe space for expression and cultivation of their talents: school. According to that research, our inability to understand how school disciplinary policies affect Black girls is due to the flawed ways in which the experiences of Black Girls have been perceived--even by advocates.
The best approach for advocating on behalf of Black girls against harmful school disciplinary policies is to focus directly on ending the criminalizing school policies and the unique forms of punishment Black girls endure as a result of these policies. Such policies often lead to non-traditional forms of incarceration and can have long term effects that go well beyond adolescence and into adulthood. Indeed, Black girls experience forms of confinement beyond going to jail or prison, such as “detention centers, house arrest, electronic monitoring, and other forms of social exclusion.” Thus, we must consider these diverse forms of confinement to fully understand this “school-to-confinement narrative.”
This article focuses on the unique way Black girls experience exclusion from school settings.
First, I will discuss factors that play a significant role in the criminalization of Black girls' identity, which perpetuates discriminatory practices that overtly and covertly contribute to the establishment and use of disciplinary policies that criminalize and harm them.
Then, I will address Pennsylvania school policies that criminalize Black girls and the impact those punitive policies have.
Finally, I will examine the rehabilitative goals of the juvenile justice system and propose alternative approaches to school discipline that may curb this push of Black girls from the classroom into the criminal justice system.
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The challenge of balancing appropriate school discipline without disparately excluding Black girls from the learning environment presents a formidable task for educators, school administration, and advocates of Black girls because school disciplinary policies vary greatly from state-to-state and even between school districts. Black students' academic performance is more directly linked to their relationship with teachers, which may be problematic given that black children are often labeled as “less conforming and more active” than their white counterparts, resulting in interactions with teachers that are “characterized by more criticism and less support.” However, with intentional, uniform steps, geared towards creating a culture of consciousness regarding identity intersectionality, especially in regard to the complexity of Black girls' identity intersection of race and gender, Pennsylvania can move in the right direction and ensure that minor disruption in the classroom is not a future prison sentence for Black girls.
School discipline has two main purposes: ensuring a safe learning environment for those within the school and creating an “environment conducive to learning.” In order to properly use exclusionary disciplinary policies in ways that are not detrimental for Black girls, there needs to be a consistent limited use of these exclusionary policies--ideally only to be used in relatively serious situations involving threats to school safety or the learning environment. An educational approach that combines a deep understanding of identity intersectionality, a limited use of exclusionary discipline such as suspensions and expulsions, and clear school policies outlining administrator and school-stationed police officers' responsibilities, are the first steps to improving the educational experience of Black girls.
Brazitte Poole is a third-year law student at Duquesne University School of Law.