Zero Tolerance Policy May Unfairly Target Black Girls

In a new article appearing in the journal Urban Education, two education scholars assert that, due to the “zero tolerance” policy, black girls are disproportionately punished in American schools.

According to the paper, this is an overlooked crisis that is populating the school-to-prison pipeline at rising rates.

Zero tolerance policies unfairly target students of color and should be abolished, said author Dr. Dorinda Carter Andrews, associate professor at Michigan State University (MSU). But while a wealth of research and public discussion has focused on black male students, little attention has been paid to the mistreatment of black girls in U.S. classrooms, she said.

In the paper, Carter Andrews and co-author Dorothy Hines-Datiri, assistant professor at the University of Kansas and former doctoral student at MSU, cite various examples of black girls in elementary school being handcuffed and taken away in police cars for classroom disruptions such as temper tantrums.

“Zero tolerance constructs these young girls as criminals,” Carter Andrews said. “It’s a criminalization of their childhood, and it’s a very prison-type mentality for schools to take.”

Zero tolerance is defined as a form of school discipline that insists on removing the child from school for an array of violations, from violence to truancy to dress code violations. Black students are two to three times more likely to be suspended than white students and are overrepresented in office referrals, expulsions, and corporal punishment, the paper says.

Black female students in the U.S. receive out-of-school suspensions at higher rates (12 percent) than female students across all other racial and ethnic categories, according to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. Only black boys (20 percent) and American Indian/Alaska native boys (13 percent) have higher suspension rates than black girls.

Black girls are also more likely to receive harsher discipline than their white peers for minor offenses, such as talking back to the teacher, Carter Andrews said.

“The research shows that teachers and other adults may give a pass to certain students for the ways in which they talk back,” she said. “Teachers may view some girls, particularly African-American girls, as attitudinal or aggressive, even though they may be using the same talk-back language as a white female student.”

In addition to the abolishment of zero tolerance policies, the researchers call for the establishment of culturally responsive professional-development training for educators that would raise their awareness of the experiences of girls of color.

“We cannot afford to have more black girls’ identities snuffed out by disciplinary policies and ultimately the educational and criminal justice systems,” the study says.

Source: Michigan State University