Experts say research shows Black girls are more likely to face disciplinary disparities in the public school setting, and something needs to be done about it.
On Thursday night, the YWCA of Grand Island hosted a virtual screening of the documentary film “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools.” Based on the book by Monique Morris, the documentary examined the disparities Black girls faced and shared personal stories from those affected.
Following the screening, the YWCA hosted a panel discussion via Zoom with Tawana Grover, Grand Island Public Schools Superintendent; Miguel Estevez, a licensed mental health practitioner; and Taylor Givens-Dunn, community engagement specialist with Voices for Children Nebraska.
Danielle Helzer, director of mission impact for the YWCA of Grand Island, facilitated Thursday night’s panel discussion.
According to statistics presented in the film, Black female students are three times more likely to receive in-school suspensions — and six times more likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions — when compared to white female students.
“That is about 17.5% of Black girls in public schools across the state of Nebraska who have been suspended,” Givens-Dunn said. “If we think about their share of the total student population, it is very clear to see that these are disproportionate numbers.”
At the state level, Givens-Dunn said University of Nebraska at Lincoln researchers conducted a study last year to look at reasons for middle school suspensions. She said the research concluded that white students were suspended for “really tangible activities” such as vandalism, smoking, drugs, alcohol and foul language.
“Then, they looked at reasons for suspension for middle school Black girls, we see things like excessive noise, disruptive behavior and poor contact,” Givens-Dunn said. “What is really interesting is these are not the tangible behaviors that we see. These are behaviors that really are subject to the eye of the beholder and we know that internal bias is a thing. We see that impacting our schools when we look at those school discipline numbers.”
Helzer asked Estevez to discuss how schools can respond to a girl’s Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) scores — which measures different types of abuse, neglect and other hallmarks of a rough childhood — rather than ignoring them. The documentary mentioned how ACE scores typically are higher among Black girls and that this potentially could affect their learning.
Estevez said that school administrators need to acknowledge that the ACE score is “very valuable,” but that they should not “just leave the data there.” He added they need to be patient with students with a high ACE score and “meet them where they are at.”
“I think that is incredibly powerful because if your ACE score is high, we don’t know what is going on at home and how you are going to respond to a traumatic event,” Estevez said. “It could be anger, withdrawal, sadness or bullying. It could be any of those things. We also have to eliminate some of the binary thinking of this is good and this is bad. We have to be in this non-binary way of thinking because it is more complex than that.”
Grover said GIPS’ mission statement, ‘Every student, every day, a success’ has evolved to where the district realizes it need to understand each student.
“The question raised (in the film) was, ‘Aren’t these experiences that all girls are going through?’ I think the answer to that would be yes, but the person that was on the panel that responded to that wanted us to understand all these experiences of self esteem, belongingness, adverse childhood experiences and all of those types of things,” she said.
“But how has it manifested in the lives of girls of color? There is a discipline issue, but how is it treated if you are a girl of color versus if you are not. I think that was very enlightening to me.”
Grover also discussed the steps GIPS is taking to address equity from a racial injustice framework. She said it realized it needed to look deeper at its data and better understand the landscape it is in.
Grover said that while the district went through its equity work to look at top-tier things that it knows are important, like graduation and Advance Placement (AP) classes, it did not have the opportunity to have conversations with people in the district.
“So we conducted some empathy interviews and they are a little bit different than our survey that you would do,” she said. “It actually gives you the opportunity to share about your lived experiences in our school district.”
“We learned that we really needed to identify racial equity, not just equity, because we were hearing concerns around race. Maybe we had not had as deep of a conversation about it. We recognized it, though, because we have a very diverse school district. I think we really wanted to understand more about the role race plays with our students.”
Grover said the empathy interviews led to the adoption of a resolution pledging to end racial injustice by the GIPS Board of Education in June.