White House hosts conference to support girls of color and rethink discipline

“Despite structural barriers of race and gender, women and girls of color have made real progress in recent years. The number of Black women-owned businesses has skyrocketed. Black women have ascended the ranks of every industry. Teen pregnancy rates among girls of color are down, while high school and four-year college graduation rates are up. That’s good news. But there’s no denying that Black women and girls still face real and persistent challenges.”
– President Barack Obama, remarks at the Congressional Black Caucus Dinner, Sept. 20

The White House Council on Women and Girls, together with the U.S. Department of Education, the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality and The National Crittenton Foundation, hosted a conference (Sept. 19)to support girls of color and rethink discipline.

Despite progress made over the recent years in academic achievement, access and school support, girls – and particularly girls of color – still disproportionately face barriers in education. White House officials say this convening will help participants focus on improving school systems’ discipline practices and developing approaches that better serve students who have experienced trauma.

Girls of color experience disproportionately high rates of school suspensions. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) Black girls are 8 percent of enrolled students, but represent 14 percent of students receiving one or more out-of-school suspensions.

Trauma from sexual assault may also impede a young girl’s success in school. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 8 percent or an estimated 10 million girls experienced rape or attempted rape during youth. When the trauma of sexual assault is not addressed, it can have a devastating effect on a girl’s physical and mental health, leading to serious problems in school. Officials said like colleges and universities, K-12 school districts must comply with legal obligations under Title IX to respond to allegations of sexual assault of a student. K-12 school districts must also provide support for student survivors of sexual assault to ensure they can receive equal educational opportunities.

As part of the conference, the White House announced additional supports from the U.S. Department of Education and the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault to help address sexual assault misconduct in schools.The U.S. Department of Education released Safe Place to Learn, an online, interactive resource package to support efforts to create a positive school climate and healthy learning environment. This package highlights strategies and instruments with which many schools are already working to create a school community committed to preventing discrimination based on sex and its most extreme corollary, sexual violence. The materials in the package aim to help three primary staff groups – administrative leadership, all building staff, and staff responsible for interceding and responding to students. The resource package contains guidance, e-learning training modules, and information about trauma sensitivity, resources to support current and ongoing conversations and efforts to prevent bullying, sexual harassment and violence, and provide safe, supportive learning environments for all students, in age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate ways.

In addition, the Communities for Just Schools Fund (CJSF) announced a new fellowship, which will soon be accepting applications, jointly hosted by CJSF and the Southern Education Foundation, to develop a best practices institute to support school discipline reform efforts and remedy racial injustice in schools. Education Anew Fellow(EAF) will be housed at the Southern Education Foundation (SEF) for a 12-18 month fellowship period. The fellow will work closely with CJSF staff and community partners, and with SEF’s staff and fellows, including SEF’s soon-to-be launched Racial Equity Fellow, to develop the CJSF Best Practices Institute (BPI) and to support conversations and collaborations between the community organizers, CJSF supports and the educators with whom SEF works.

The Center on Poverty will serve school system reformers who seek to implement trauma-informed approaches that are responsive to the unique needs of girls of color..

The conference brought together educational teams from 15 states and 23 school districts, includingSt. Paul Public Schools, as well as key researchers and experts and nonprofit partners.

September 29, 2016
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