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Black Girls Face Disproportionate Punishment in NYC Schools

Host 1: Black girls in New York City public schools are being suspended at 10 times the rate of white girls according to a report released this month.

Host 2: This has been blamed on a set of education policies known as zero tolerance discipline. Joe Sykes visited one school where they do things a little differently


When Tyshawna Crowder was at Thurgood Marshall Academy in Harlem the school suspended her…

Tyshawna: At least 7 times, at least.

She admits she could be badly behaved but she says when she was suspended she was just at home….and she was no longer able to do her work. It was her math that really suffered

Tyshawna: Me not being able to get to that algebra class and falling behind in that class it actually made me depressed like I legit did not want to be there.

And…. according to a recent report Tyshawna isn’t alone.

Crenshaw: So black girls are 10 times more likely to be disciplined here in New York than white girls. (00.06)

Kimberle(Kimberly) Crenshaw is a professor at Columbia law school and wrote the report wrote the report. She says black girls are being pushed out of school and….this puts them on the road to failure and in many cases they wind up in the criminal justice system.

She says the focus has been on boys before but in New York the racial disparity in suspensions is actually higher for girls than it is for boys.

Crenshaw: When we say black lives matter we mean all lives matter and we have to be as attentive of the lives of girls and women as we are of men and boys(00.12)

The problem many point to is… zero tolerance discipline. This is where students are suspended on the spot for offences like….wearing the wrong uniform….or answering back to a teacher. Proponents say it helps keeps disruptive kids out of the classroom. Others disagree.

Reynolds: The assumptions of zero tolerance policies have not held up.(00.05)

That’s Cecil Reynolds. He chaired the American Psychological task force on the effectiveness of tough discipline in schools

Reynolds: It creates a climate of anxiety and fear when in fact it was meant to create a climate of certainty and safety.(00.10)

Now some schools in New York are trying something different. Tyshawna Crowder

moved from her old school to the James Baldwin School, a specialist transfer school in Chelsea . Baldwin is a pioneer in a new approach called restorative justice.

RJ Role Play: We’re in a circle and welcome to everybody. We have here in our circle today, me the facilitator, we’ve got our dean Kate(00.06)

Fade down RJ Role Play and play under narration

This is a system that allows kids like Tyshawna to play an active role in addressing what they’ve done wrong. Here 6 teachers are role playing. The student Jennifer recounts how she  threw down her paper and walked out in the middle of class….. [fade up into Jennifer speaking…]

Bring Up RJ Role Play: I was just frustrated, I didn’t understand the directions, I didn’t know what was going on and I kept asking Ms G for help and I felt like she wasn’t listening to me(00.10)

This is an offense that normally results in suspension. But here…the group then go around the circle discussing her behavior and how it affected each of them.

Today…they don’t get to a resolution in role play…. but Tyshawna is able to tell the teachers how restorative practices helped her in real life conflict with another girl.

Tyshawna: When I was in a mediation and one girl I had a problem with, we went and we left not speaking to each other but we had a respect for each other.(00.14)

She says…now she can graduate and….maybe even think about her future career prospects.

Tyshawna: I actually want to become a forensic psychologist or I was actually thinking of redirecting into a teacher becoming a 9th grade global teacher.(00.08)

Is it working? Well…if you look at the numbers…it’s really hard to tell…Baldwin doesn’t release suspension data and…many restorative justice advocates say it’s more about a child’s overall outlook than…statistics.

That rationale is far from definitive. But this kind of approach is expanding and is currently being tried in a handful of schools.

One thing is certain: school officials are unhappy with zero tolerance. Last week the mayor announced new changes to the discipline code making it harder for principals to suspend kids.

The D.O.E will hold a public hearing about the reforms on Monday.

Joe Sykes, Columbia Radio News


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