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In Columbus Schools And Across The Country, Black Girls Face Harsher Discipline


New research shows that black girls are punished at a greater disparity than black boys - and that holds true in Central Ohio.

The National Women's Law Center reports during the 2013-14 school year Columbus City Schools gave suspensions to girls of color at double the rate of white girls: 16.9 percent for black girls as opposed to 8.5 percent for white girls.

Monique Morris, who wrote the book "Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools," says black girls are the fastest growing population experiencing this exclusionary discipline.

Even though black girls only make up 16 percent of the female student population, they account for a third of girls arrested in school or referred to law enforcement.

"What we find across the country is that black girls are disproportionately punished for subjective behaviors, or for behaviors that are read as combative and defiant, that are actually them speaking up and speaking their truth," Morris says.

Morris adds that when black girls engage with educators in a way that's perceived as disrespectful, they're also more likely to be reprimanded in a way that results in removal from classroom, being sent to the principal's office or to police.

The data presents an opportunity, Morris says, to critically examine if these episodes are from actual rule-breaking or from differences in adults' decision-making.

"Certainly, the girls who are most vulnerable to school push-out, black girls included, are girls who are experiencing other forms of victimization and oppression in and out of school," Morris says. "They are girls who are disproportionately dealing with poverty, who have a history of victimization, exploitation."

But the trauma experienced by black girls is often not seen as such, or treated with the appropriate measures.

"It's just seen as a girl with a bad attitude," Morris says.

Morris is speaking Thursday at Ohio State's African-American and African Studies Community Extension Center.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.