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March 26, 2021

Reps. Pressley, Watson Coleman, Omar Re-Introduce Bold Legislation to End School Pushout of Girls of Color

Bill Text (PDF) | Summary (PDF) | NowThis Video

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), along with Congresswomen Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) and Ilhan Omar (MN-05), re-introduced the Ending Punitive, Unfair, School-based Harm that is Overt and Unresponsive to Trauma (Ending PUSHOUT) Act, bold legislation to end the punitive pushout of girls of color from schools and disrupt the school-to-confinement pathway. The Ending PUSHOUT Act acknowledges the harmful ways in which Black and Brown girls are criminalized and overpoliced at school and invests in safe and nurturing school environments for all students, especially girls of color.

Earlier this month, Rep. Pressley re-introduced the People’s Justice Guarantee, a bold framework to transform the American criminal legal system that calls for schools to create safe and nurturing environments that provide all students with the opportunity to heal, thrive and reach their highest potential.

“Our schools should be spaces for learning and growth, but for far too many Black and brown girls, interactions with racist dress code policies and law enforcement in our schools define their experience,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “This is not simply an inequity—it is a crisis in and of itself. The Ending PUSHOUT Act would address this crisis head on by establishing trauma-informed policies in schools and creating an ecosystem within our schools where all girls can heal and thrive. In this moment of reckoning on racial injustice, we must dismantle all systems of oppression, including the discriminatory policies that criminalize adolescent behavior and disproportionately impact girls of color. I’m grateful for the partnership of Congresswomen Watson Coleman and Omar and look forward to getting this critical legislation across the finish line.”

“Black and brown girls are being disciplined for expressing trauma at a time when so many black and brown children have lost loved ones to a pandemic that has devastated their communities. They’re being disciplined for acting out unaddressed mental illness. They’re even being disciplined for their own natural hair. They’re being disciplined for the energy, independent thinking and strength that would earn their white, male peers the label, ‘future leader.’ That discipline is not only wholly inappropriate, it takes these girls out of the classroom, pushing them toward the criminal justice system, and diminishing their access to a complete education. This pattern has got to stop,” said Congresswoman Watson Coleman. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in this fight to cut off the school to prison pipeline and ensure black and brown girls stay in the classroom.”

“Every single student should be treated fairly in our school system, not discriminated against due to the color of their skin. Yet across the country, Black girls are suspended, expelled, and even arrested at higher rates, often due to discriminatory hair and dress policies. In my hometown of Minneapolis, black students are 41% of the student population, but make up three quarters of all suspensions. At one middle school in my district, African American students are 338% more likely to be suspended than their white peers, according to the most recent data. The pandemic has only exacerbated inequality in education,” said Congresswoman Omar. “Punitive approaches do not help our children get an education. I am so proud to work on this bill with Representative Ayanna Pressley to create safe and nurturing school environments—by investing in trauma-informed policies, enforcing civil rights laws, and establishing a task force to end this crisis.”

Across the country, the education of Black and brown students is often disrupted as a result of discriminatory and punitive discipline policies that criminalize and push them out of school. Black girls are suspended, expelled, referred to law enforcement and arrested on school campuses at disproportionately higher rates than white girls due to unfair dress code and hair policies and a lack of understanding of the historical, social and economic inequities such as poverty, trauma, hunger, and violence that often impact student behavior. As a result, Black girls, girls of color, and students with disabilities are disproportionately subjected to exclusionary school discipline policies such as suspension and expulsion, which can have long-term effects on the safety, wellbeing, and academic success of all students.

The Ending PUSHOUT Act will work to disrupt the school-to-confinement pipeline by investing in safe and nurturing school environments for all students, especially girls of color.  Specifically, the bill would:

  • Establish $2.5 billion in new federal grants to support states and schools that commit to ban unfair and discriminatory school discipline practices and improve school climates;
  • Protect the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) and strengthening the Department of Education’s (ED) Office of Civil Rights (OCR); and
  • Establish a Federal Interagency Taskforce to End School Pushout and examine its disproportionate impact on girls of color.

An in-depth summary of the legislation is available here and the bill text is available here.

To view the NowThis video on the bill, click here. To view Rep. Pressley’s 2019 Boston Globe op-ed on the legislation, click here.

“Addressing the policies, practices, and conditions in schools that facilitate a risk of future contact with the juvenile court and criminal legal system remains a timely and critical issue,” said Dr. Monique Morris, Ed.D., author and scholar on the pushout of Black girls in schools. “Black girls and other girls of color continue to experience disparities in school discipline, and as a result, other negative learning outcomes. Now that students are returning to school after having collectively experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, which disproportionately impacted communities of color, it is important to cultivate learning environments that are nurturing and responsive to trauma. From the investment in teachers to the call for a more robust development of alternatives to exclusionary discipline, the Ending PUSHOUT Act brings us closer to the development of schools as locations for healing so that they can realize their potential to foster the best outcomes for every student.”

The Ending PUSHOUT Act, which was originally introduced in Congress in December 2019, is informed by Rep. Pressley’s People’s Justice Guarantee and is a continuation of her longstanding history of working to address issues of criminalization during her tenure on the Boston City Council.


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