March 14, 2019 10:46 am
In the United States, black and Latinx girls are disproportionately punished, criminalized and even physically assaulted in their schools by their teachers, administrators and school police officers. Often they are suspended, expelled or arrested for infractions such as falling asleep in class, talking back to school officials or simply for showing what are considered acceptable emotions when it comes to their white classmates.
On 15 January this year, four black and Latinx 12-year-old girls were strip-searched at East middle school in Binghamton, New York. After interacting with the girls in the hallway, the principal, Tim Simonds, found that they seemed to be on drugs. He suspected that they were concealing prohibited substances under their clothes, so he took the girls to the school nurse’s office where, for over an hour, they were questioned and given sobriety tests. No one called their parents for consent. Instead, as instructed by the principal, the school nurse and the assistant principal, Michelle Raleigh, told the girls to remove their clothes while they watched. The one girl who refused to disrobe was suspended, and no drugs were found.
Why did Simonds suspect the girls of drug use? According to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which is now representing the students’ families, the principal called three of the girls’ parents after the search to say that they had been sent to the school nurse because they had appeared “hyper and giddy” after lunch. The school board now denies that the strip-search happened.
The racial disparity in punishments enforced at and by American schools is staggering: a 2015 report by the African American Policy Forum and Columbia Law School’s Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies has found that black boys are three times more likely and black girls six times more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts. Black girls, according to the report, have even been punished for wearing their hair naturally.