Event to bring light to school discipline rates among Black girls

KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — An organization in Kentwood is teaming up with educators, community leaders and juvenile court supervisors to bring to light the increased discipline rates young Black girls are facing at school.

On Monday, Wedgwood’s Manassah Project will host a virtual screening and “Blue Table Talk” discussion to cover the topic from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Statistically, Black girls nationwide are disciplined at a much higher rate than their white peers in school.

“If we continue to push them out, we are pushing them into the streets,” Coordinator of the Wedgwood Manassah Project Nakeidra Battle-Debarge said.

During the virtual event, a documentary called “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools” will be shown to take a closer look at how young girls are viewed in educational judicial settings. The film speaks about various forms of discipline Black girls receive from being sent out of class to law enforcement referrals and even suspension and expulsion.

The film and discussion will show the biases against girls of color and how it relates to them being susceptible to violence. Many attribute unnecessary punishments to reasons beyond girls’ misbehavior. The treatment reflects that Black girls are judged more harshly.

THE IMPACT IN MICHIGAN

In Michigan, they are eight times more likely to be arrested than white girls, according to a state-by-state analysis conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We just want to highlight that. It’s a difficult conversation. Race is a difficult conversation and just because we don’t have this conversation doesn’t mean that it’s going to go away,” Battle-Debarge said. “The video is very compelling. I think it’s going to create a buzz and really have people challenged.”

The school to prison pipeline is still a great concern. Now, the impact it has on girls is increasing.

“The juvenile court was established to help with young men because of the population that was coming to the court’s attention but over the last five to 10 years the female population has increased significantly. That’s why girls court was established because we didn’t have girls specific resources available to help these young ladies that were coming to our attention,” said Juvenile Probation Supervisor for the 17th Circuit Court Family Division Marcel Moralez-Morris, who has been working in the field for over 20 years.

A number of services are available in the probation department for girls who come through the system. There are mental health services and the girls court program which provides treatment, incentives and community-based support to help reduce offenses and improve their overall education and wellbeing.

Moralez-Morris believes that the reality is that if girls are continually getting kicked out of school, they are becoming vulnerable to become victims of abuse, trafficking and exploitation.

“This topic has been important in our court for a very long time,” she said. “We do have a committe that is a school of justice parntersnhip. We work closely with leaderships in the school district to address these issues.”

WORKING WITH SCHOOLS

Wedgwood has been partnering with another organization, Solutions to End Exploitation, to address this with school administrators and staff in the Kent County Intermediate School District.

The district received a $1.5 million Human Trafficking Youth Prevention Education Demonstration Program grant in October 2020 to begin prevention education in the schools.

“We are the root of where things happen. If we kick kids out, where are they going? What are they doing? What are they being exposed to?” Brooke Davis, director of diversity, inclusion and mental health services at Kenowa Hills Public Schools, said.

Davis believes the starting point to keep Black girls off of the street is to make sure administrators understand the students they serve and the biases they have.

She works with a team who compiles data and looks at discipline numbers to figure out what are the next steps as it relates to their schools.

While national statistics suggest Black girls are suspended at a higher rate than white girls, it’s not a problem at the Kenowa Hills Public Schools.

“What I can say is that we service more of our students of color. Those are the ones sent down from the counselors, sent down from our child life specialists,” Davis said. “It’s not a bad thing. It leaves me to believe we have some work to do around that population.”

Davis and Moralez-Morris will join other female leaders from across the community for the “Blue Table Talk” to discuss the film and how the education sector can better service girls of color.

Battle-Debarge has already received a great response and hopes community members will join the conversation to create a better environment for marginalized youth.

“As long as we continue to perpetuate violence against them or not identify them as youth being at risk, we are not doing our due diligence to protect them,” she said. “A lot of them have experienced some kind of trauma and trauma looks different for different people. So, if you’re not able to acknowledge that, you’ll look at the behavior versus what happened to that individual that would create the behavior they are exhibiting.”

This event is free, but registration is required to receive the Zoom link to join the virtual screening and discussion. Click here to register.

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