Posted on June 28, 2018

Baltimore Schools Punish Black Girls More Frequently, Study Finds

Lauren Lumpkin and Liz Bowie, Carroll County Times, June 28, 2018

Black girls in the Baltimore City public schools are more likely than other girls to be punished for speaking out in school, defying authority and causing disturbances, according to a study released Thursday by the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund.

Student testimonials reveal black girls report being disproportionately suspended for subjective offenses like challenging conditions at school.

“When we think about schools and the role that they play in the idea that, when girls make observations about what they see as problematic and are told they are defiant, rather than encouraged to be activists, that is really discouraging,” said Cara McClellan, author of the “Our Girls, Our Future” study.


According to its code of conduct, city school officials are not supposed to discipline students for talking back or defiance of authority unless it is severe behavior, such as throwing furniture across a room or pulling a fire alarm. {snip}


Approximately 80 percent of city public school students are black, making it one of the most racially segregated school districts in Maryland and the country. It is also the only school district in the state with its own police force, which cost the system $12.9 million in 2016 and $7.2 million in 2017, according to the district’s operating budget. School police are frequently called in to break up fights between students.

“Especially because of involvement of school police, the root cause of fights is often ignored because there is such a focus on punishing through exclusion,” said McClellan, {snip}

In the past decade, the state school board has adopted regulations that require school systems to significantly reduce suspensions, particularly of black and special education students who are disproportionately suspended.

Statewide, suspensions for disruption and disrespect are greater than any other categories except fights. Kirk Crawley, a teacher and director of the Law and Leadership Institute at Frederick Douglass High School, said he’s noticed that girls at the predominantly black school are treated differently from boys.

“Teachers would take a more negative approach to [black female students],” said Crawley. “Whatever negative behavior that the teacher perceives is because the behavior doesn’t fall in line with how they think a woman should behave.”


He observed that girls may be reacting to the injustices they encounter.

“A lot of the time, there’s a sense of anger with a lot of the girls,” he said. “But I don’t think it generates from within as much as it’s influenced from the outside.”


Adults tend to view black girls as “less innocent and more adult-like” than white girls, according to a 2014 study by the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality. The study’s authors hypothesize that the adultification of black girls leads teachers, school administrators and police to view these vulnerable students as more culpable for their actions and, on that basis, punish them more harshly.


These factors contribute to the “school-to-prison pipeline” that affects black girls five times more often than it does white girls, McClellan said. While approximately 33 percent of female youth in Maryland are black, they represent 65 percent of the female placements at the Department of Juvenile Services (DJS), the state’s juvenile justice agency.


“Our Girls, Our Future” proposes several solutions that could even the playing field between black girls in Baltimore and their peers, including: greater investment in school counseling services; incorporation of trauma-informed education and restorative justice practices; reduction of reliance on school police and DJS; implementation of implicit bias training for teachers; and increased access to curricula that includes the voices of women of color.

The school system has already started that work. Forty schools have been targeted to receive training in restorative practices and social emotional learning, Santelises said. {snip}