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April 18, 2023

As GOP Target Vulnerable Students, Pressley, Watson Coleman, Omar Reintroduce Key Bill to End Pushout of Girls of Color

Timely Bill Addresses Discriminatory Practices, Promotes Safe, Nurturing School Environments for All Students

Bill Text (PDF) | Bill Summary (PDF) | GAO Request

WASHINGTON – Today, as Republicans nationwide target vulnerable students, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), in partnership with Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) and Ilhan Omar (MN-05), re-introduced the Ending PUSHOUT Act, their legislation to end the punitive pushout of girls of color from schools. The Ending PUSHOUT Act calls out the harmful ways in which students are criminalized and overpoliced at school and invests in safe and nurturing school environments for all students, especially girls of color.

Rep. Pressley is also releasing a letter she sent with Speaker-Emerita Nancy Pelosi and Representative Rosa DeLauro requesting a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on the “pushout” crisis in K-12 schools.

“Our schools should be a place for our students to learn, grow, and thrive – not to be disciplined, overpoliced, and criminalized. But far too often, Black and brown girls, LGBTQI+ students, and those with disabilities are subject to unfair and discriminatory practices that criminalize adolescent behavior in the classroom,” said Rep. Pressley. “Our bill would help end the discriminatory pushout crisis by establishing trauma-informed policies in schools and creating safe and nurturing environments that provide all students the opportunity to reach their highest potential. As Republicans and school districts nationwide push policies that target and further marginalize our most vulnerable students, this is the type of trauma-informed, policy we need in this moment. I’m grateful to Reps. Omar and Watson Coleman for their partnership on legislation that affirms the right for every student to learn and thrive.”

“Black and brown girls are too often unfairly disciplined for expressing trauma at a time when so many black and brown children have lost loved ones to a pandemic that has devastated our communities,” said Rep. Watson Coleman. “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. 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.”

“In Minnesota’s 5th District and 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, according to the most recent data. At one middle school in my district, African American students are 338% more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts. This is a civil rights issue, and we must be investing in trauma-informed approaches instead of a punitive approach,” said Rep. Omar. “I am once again 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. In particular, 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. Overall, Black girls, girls of color, LGBTQI+ students, 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 pathway by investing in safe and nurturing school environments for all students, especially girls of color.  Specifically, the bill would:

  • Establish new federal grants to support states and schools that commit to ban unfair and discriminatory school discipline practices and improve school climate.
  • Protect Civil Rights Data Collection and strengthen the Department of Education’s (ED) Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
  • 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 2019 NowThis video on the bill, click here. To view Rep. Pressley’s 2019 Boston Globe op-ed on the legislation, click here.

Joining Reps. Pressley, Watson Coleman and Omar on the bill are Reps. Joyce Beatty (OH-03), Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), Yvette Clarke (NY-09), Alma Adams (NC-12), Greg Casar (TX-35), Sara Jacobs (CA-51), Rashida Tlaib (MI-12), Troy Carter (LA-02), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (GA-04), Barbara Lee (CA-12), Nydia M. Velazquez (NY-07), Grace Meng (NY-06), Al Green (TX-09), David Trone (MD-06), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), and Mark DeSaulnier (CA-10).

Supporting organizations include: Monique W. Morris, Ed.D., National Black Women’s Justice Institute, National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, The Center for Popular Democracy, the Center for American Progress, EveryBlackGirl, Inc., the Boston Teachers Union, Love Your Magic, Black Swan Academy, National Women’s Law Center, YWCA USA, YWCA National Capital Area, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Citizens for Juvenile Justice, GLSEN, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Gwinnett SToPP, National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools, National Crittenton, Girls for Gender Equity (GGE), Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity (URGE), African American Policy Forum, National Education Association, SIECUS: Sex Ed for Social Change, Futures Without Violence, Alliance for Educational Justice, National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, Strategies for Youth, Women’s Law Project, SPLC Action Fund, National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE), Augustus F. Hawkins Foundation, Advocating 4 Kids, Inc, National Juvenile Defender Center, Black Skeptics Los Angeles, Women’s Leadership Project, Racial Justice NOW, Parents Across America- Guilford, Action Communication and Education Reform, Education Law Center- PA, Citizen Action of New York, S.O.U.L. Sisters Leadership Collective, New York Transgender Advocacy Group, Florida Student Power Network, Katrina Feldkamp, Equal Justice Works Fellow, CADRE (Community Asset Development Re-defining Education), Center for Teen Empowerment, The Village Method, New Settlement Parent Action Committee, Portland Parent Union, Dr. Marla Crawford/Elite Educational Consulting, IMPACTSafety, Black and Pink, Inc., Black Parallel School Board, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Make the Road Nevada, AAPI Women Lead, Genders & Sexualities Alliance Network (GSA Network), The Firecracker Foundation, Youth Activism Project, Leaders Igniting Transformation, and WV Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, West Dayton Youth Task Force, Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, Juvenile Law Center, National Center for Transgender Equality, The Education Trust, Parents Organized for Public Education, Public Advocacy for Kids (PAK), Dignity in Schools Campaign, Linda Reid, Nollie Jenkins Family Center, Inc., National Parents Union, S.T.A.N.D. Up, Fannies Education Alliance, Uplift MN, Children’s Defense Fund, United Women in Faith, Center for Disability Rights, The Federal School Discipline and Climate Coalition (FedSDC), The Daniel Initiative, National Center for Learning Disabilities, YWCA Central Indiana, YWCA McLean County, YWCA Central Massachusetts, YWCA South Hampton Roads, YWCA Southeast Wisconsin, YWCA Ulster County (New York), YWCA Charleston (WV), YWCA Hartford Region, YWCA Metro St. Louis, YWCA Monterey County (California), YWCA La Crosse (Wisconsin), YWCA Greater Johnstown (Pennsylvania), YWCA Helena, YWCA Houston, YWCA New Hampshire, YWCA Greater Charleston (South Carolina), YWCA Northern New Jersey, YWCA Sauk Valley (Illinois), YWCA Delaware, YWCA Central Maine, YWCA Niagara Frontier, YWCA Syracuse & Onondaga County, YWCA Titusville (Pennsylvania), YWCA Rhode Island, YWCA Hamilton (Ohio), YWCA Kalamazoo (Michigan), YWCA Brooklyn, YWCA Silicon Valley, YWCA Glendale, and YWCA Austin.

“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 Couvson, 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.”

“Students of color deserve equitable access to education and a complete sense of safety in school. Yet, Black and brown girls across the country continue to be suspended, expelled, referred to law enforcement, or arrested at school at much higher rates than white girls,” said Elizabeth Brown of YWCA Columbus. “Our mission at YWCA Columbus urges us to call out racism in all its forms, and we know that the overcriminalization of young girls of color only exacerbates inequality in education and negative economic outcomes. We applaud Reps. Pressley, Watson Coleman, and Omar for re-introducing the Ending PUSHOUT Act, and we urge Congress to invest in safe and nurturing school environments for all students.

“Please stand behind Rep. Ayanna Pressley to acknowledge that Black and Brown girls are being criminalized in the school system. Our schools need to be a safe place for students, especially girls of color,” said Em Ellis of YWCA. “To do this, we need to help fund schools to invest in safe and nurturing school environments, including social emotional learning curriculum used with all students, trauma-informed training for all staff, racism prevention training for all staff, and adopting social emotional learning/ restorative justice approaches to meet unmet needs, teach new skills, and solve problems instead of rewarding and punishing children with challenging behaviors.”

“We applaud Congresswoman Pressley for her efforts in calling out the disparities including punitive practices girls and gender expansive young people of color face in the school system,” said Lisette Orellana Engel of National Crittenton. “As a result, far too many of them are pushed into deep end systems, thus altering the trajectory of their lives. National Crittenton is proud to support the Ending PUSHOUT Act and continues to envision a world in which girls and gender expansive young people of color can achieve their full potential and live unapologetic and liberated lives without fear of violence or injustice.”

“Changing the world, one student at a time,” said Dr. Marla Faith Crawford of Elite Educational Consulting.

“As women of faith, we are committed to interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. We remain deeply concerned that the pushout factors negatively impacting girls of color, especially Black girls, are far too often overlooked and ignored. We strongly support the Ending PUSHOUT Act,” said Emily Jones, Executive for Racial Justice, United Women in Faith.

The Ending PUSHOUT Act, originally introduced in Congress in December 2019 and reintroduced in October 2021, 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.