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February 16, 2022

Pressley Discusses How Pandemic Mental Health and Trauma Crisis Exacerbate Pushout of Black and Brown Students

“The unprecedented hurt, harm, trauma and grief that our young people are carrying in their emotional backpacks is undeniable.”

Video (YouTube)

WASHINGTON – Today, at a House Education and Labor Subcommittee hearing, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) discussed how the pandemic-induced youth mental health crisis and unprecedented levels of childhood trauma will exacerbate the school pushout of Black and brown students—particularly Black, Latinx and Native American girls and Black girls with disabilities.

She discussed the need for schools to abandon discriminatory and punitive school discipline policies and instead adopt nurturing and trauma informed programs and supports that create healthy and safe school climates. 

Earlier this year, Rep. Pressley re-introduced the Ending PUSHOUT Act, her bold legislation to end the punitive pushout of girls of color from schools and disrupt the school-to-confinement pathway. She is also a lead sponsor of the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act, legislation to prohibit the use of federal funds to increase police presence in schools and instead invest resources to school districts to hire counselors, nurses, social workers and other health care providers. Both pieces of legislation were discussed during the hearing as policy proposals necessary to create safe and healthy school climates.

A full transcript of her exchange with witnesses is available below and the full video is available here.

Transcript: Pressley Discusses How Pandemic Mental Health and Trauma Crisis Exacerbate Pushout of Black and Brown Students
U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor

February 16, 2022

REP. PRESSLEY: Thank you Chairman Scott and Chairman Sablan and Ranking Member Owens for granting me the opportunity to participate in what is really a critically important hearing today.

Now, throughout the course of this pandemic, more than 160,000 children have lost a parent, grandparent or primary caregiver –and due to its disparate impact, Black, Latinx, American Indian and Alaska Native children, were more than four times likely to lose a loved one.

A recent report showed that Black and Latinx girls are more likely to have to take on primary caregiver roles for younger siblings and cousins, and more likely to work as frontline workers over the course of the pandemic. The anxiety and the psychological toll has led to sharp spikes in attempted suicides and other mental health crises.

The unprecedented hurt, harm, trauma and grief that our young people are carrying in their emotional backpacks is undeniable.

Now more than ever, our students need safe, nurturing and healing school environments where they can learn and thrive and feel safe most of all. But for too long our schools, instead, they have been sites for criminalization and punishment, discriminatory and harsh discipline policies which push our students, particularly Black, Latinx, Native American girls, and Black girls with disabilities, out of the classroom and into the school-to-confinement pathway through suspensions and expulsions at damning and alarming rates.

Miss Harper, do you believe this pandemic has induced youth mental health challenges and unprecedented levels of childhood trauma, and that that will exacerbate the school pushout crisis?

KRISTEN HARPER: Two dynamics here. To your first question. I said before in my testimony you say 160,000 children, you know, have lost a parent or grandparent. I noted, you know, one in 500 as of June 2021, and that preceded the Delta and omicron variants, the loss of a parent is well known, well established as an adverse childhood experience. Without knowing the research jargon, I think many people would agree that the loss of a parent is destabilizing in a young child’s life. And we know that, you know, traumatized young children they have, they can experience different kinds of challenges being, you know, forming relationships, processing language. So there’s the potential for academic barriers, and externalizing behaviors, also a potential for them to withdraw, you know, from within their classrooms.

So we have to create contexts, where we are in a position of asking why when we see a child’s behavior changing, their academic performance shifting, rather than being in a stance where again, those narratives are really important here, assuming a disrespectful child, a child that doesn’t care about their education, the narratives we use, about young children matter. And they drive how we respond to create supportive schools. Our narratives need to be about asking why and getting to the root challenges behind whatever behavior we’re seeing with a young person.

REP. PRESSLEY: Thank you. Exactly right. As we’ve, you know, often spoke about the need for these trauma– for learning communities to be trauma informed. And the question is not, you know, “what’s wrong with you,” but “what happened to you” instead.

And in fact, my, Ending PUSHOUT Act would help to do just that by supporting states and schools that commit to ban these discriminatory discipline practices and instead invest in trauma-informed care and supports and restorative justice programs and more.

My bill will also strengthen the Department of Education Civil Rights’ data collection so that we can spot these harmful trends and increase resources for its offices of civil rights so they can hold districts accountable for violating students’ civil rights.

And Miss Craven, why is it important that we strengthen data collection on disparities in exclusionary school discipline, and other punitive discipline methods, like corporal punishment? Why does the data matter?

MORGAN CRAVEN: The data matter because they allow us to have a full picture of what’s happening in our schools. And we need to know data overall, and we also need to understand data disaggregated by different student groups, and how different student identities intersect.

So what does discipline look like for Black boys with disabilities, for example. And having that data give us gives us a richer picture of what is happening to students so that we can understand why it is happening, change our policies and practices and make sure we’re investing in the tools that schools need in order to stop those harmful practices.

REP. PRESSLEY: I’m a firm believer that that which gets measured gets done so that is why we need the data and the transparency of that data.