Rep. Ayanna Pressley is seeking to address the “school-to-confinement pipeline” that has resulted in Black girls being jailed for simply wearing hair extensions to school.
The Massachusetts Democrat recently reintroduced the Ending Punitive, Unfair, School-based Harm that is Overt and Unresponsive to Trauma Act or the Ending PUSHOUT Act in an effort to combat the over-policing practiced in many schools across the country, WBUR reports.
Pressley’s move to get the bill passed comes amid new research from the National Women’s Law Center that found Black girls often receive harsher discipline at school than their white peers over minor things like dress code violations and hairstyles.
“Our schools have got to be places and spaces for learning and growth,” Pressley said. “But for too many Black and Brown girls, interactions with racist dress code policies, hair policies [and] law enforcement in our schools has really defined their experience, and we haven’t seen these disparate punitive impacts wane during the pandemic.”
She noted how much worse the issue has gotten during the pandemic while referencing the ProRepublica report about a 15-year-old girl who was sent to jail for not completing her homework.
“Thankfully, we were ultimately able to see her released, but her story is part of a larger pattern of the criminalization of Black girls for minor misbehavior at school,” Pressley said.
The bill, first introduced in 2019, would work with schools in providing alternative resources for their students. Instead of calling the police on their scholars, the bill would require schools to offer mental health services, counseling, and care programs instead of the controversial pushout tactics. The bill would also gather data under the Civil Rights Data Collection, improve the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, and form a federal task force aimed at addressing the pushout crisis.
Participating districts would also be incentivized by the bill’s $2.5 billion in grant funding if they commit to banning unfair disciplinary school policies.
“This is not a one-and-done situation. We have to undo centuries of hurt and harm that were legislated, that have been codified in statutes,” Pressley said. “So this is going to take a multi-legislative approach, and it is going to take political will and courage.”