Schools’ Discipline for Girls Differs by Race and Hue

Tanzina Vega, New York Times, December 11, 2014

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For all the attention placed on problems that black boys face in terms of school discipline and criminal justice, there is increasing focus on the way those issues affect black girls as well.

Data from the Office for Civil Rights at the United States Department of Education show that from 2011 to 2012, black girls in public elementary and secondary schools nationwide were suspended at a rate of 12 percent, compared with a rate of just 2 percent for white girls, and more than girls of any other race or ethnicity. In Georgia, the ratio of black girls receiving suspensions in the same period compared with white girls was 5 to 1, and in Henry County, that ratio was 2.3 to 1, said J D Hardin, the spokesman for the county’s school district. And researchers say that within minority groups, darker-skinned girls are disciplined more harshly than light-skinned ones.

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{snip} At a sparsely attended committee meeting in Henry County where school officials, advocates and elected officials gathered to address discipline methods in the county, a handful of parents of black girls shared their stories. Sakinah White, a single mother of three who is an elementary schoolteacher in nearby Clayton County, said her 17-year-old daughter had been treated unfairly after she was expelled from her high school over an incident in which she was accused of hitting a white male student with a book. Criminal charges were also filed in the juvenile court system, Ms. White said.

“It’s a form of child abuse,” she said.

After a semester-long expulsion, her daughter became suicidal, Ms. White said, and began cutting herself with soda can tops. Ultimately, the criminal charges were dropped, Ms. White said, and the state board of education reversed the expulsion.

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Another thing the girls have in common is dark skin color, which researchers at Villanova University say affects the likelihood of being suspended. An analysis by Villanova researchers of data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health indicated that black girls with the darkest skin tones were three times more likely to be suspended than black girls with the lightest skin.

There are different gender expectations for black girls compared with white girls, said Lance Hannon, a Villanova sociology professor who conducted the analysis. And, he said, there are different expectations within cross-sections of black girls. “When a darker-skinned African-American female acts up, there’s a certain concern about their boyish aggressiveness,” Dr. Hannon said, “that they don’t know their place as a female, as a woman.”

Compared with black boys, who are disciplined at higher rates than boys of other races and ethnicities, researchers say black girls tend to be penalized more subjectively, like for having a bad attitude or being defiant.

Jamilia Blake, an associate professor of educational psychology at Texas A&M University, said that while black boys are seen as threatening, black girls are often seen as “unsophisticated, hypersexualized and defiant.”

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