alah Berrian, a fifth-grade student at William Beanes Elementary School in Suitland, jots down notes Jan. 30 during a class discussion on climate change. (WI File Photo/Anthony Tilghman)

Adrienne Hawkins says she’s blessed her daughter entering the eighth grade has a strong support system at Thomas G. Pullen performing arts school in Landover.
When Hawkins’ daughter begins the first day of school virtually Aug. 31, she hopes the Prince George’s County school system will provide patience and flexibility for students who’ll be at home for the entire first semester through Jan. 29.
She’s specifically pleased the school system won’t enforce a school uniform policy.
“[Students] shouldn’t have to wear a uniform for virtual learning. Some parents are out of work during COVID-19,” said Hawkins, who’s able to work from home as a grant’s monitor for the U.S. Department of Education. “They clearly have to attend to class and be appropriately dressed. Everyone needs to put students at the center of the work and support them as best we can to make sure they are successful.”
A guide released Thursday, Aug. 20 stresses that certain policies and procedures affect student achievement for girls of color, specifically Black, Latina and American Indian/Native Alaskan students
For instance, the document from The Education Trust and National Women’s Law Center highlights when some school districts enforce dress and hair code and defiance policies, it creates gender and racial biases.
In turn, those guidelines have exposed some of those biases amid the coronavirus pandemic and caused suspensions and other exclusionary practices based on the report entitled “…and they cared: How to Create Better, Safer Learning Environments for Girls of Color.”
“What schools have been doing isn’t working,” Kayla Patrick, senior policy analyst for The Education Trust and one of the report’s three authors, said in an interview. “Suspensions and expulsions don’t help students to learn more or do better. It doesn’t create a better outcome for students.”
The document presents some statistics from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights on school suspensions from the 2015-16 school year.
About 14 percent of Blacks girls accounted for all students suspended during that year but represented only 8% of students registered in school.
During that time, Black girls were more four times likely to be arrested in school compared to white students.
A spokesperson from the county education department confirmed that’s the latest school year of data available.
Meanwhile, the report, www.edtrust.org/discipline, offers a checklist for school and state officials to utilize under four headings – data, discipline policies and practices, support for systemwide policy change and culture and communication.
Some of the questions outlined include:
• Does your district make discipline data publicly available in a way that breaks out race, gender, and disability status?
• If the dress code requires a uniform, does the school or district provide sufficient resources, multiple times a year, to students/ families to cover the costs?
• Does the district partner with local health providers and community organizations to provide mental health services to students?
• Are students and families an integral process of writing the code of conduct, harassment policies, and dress codes?
Patrick said Maryland’s education plan, the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, presents an example to improve a school’s setting. However, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) vetoed the nearly $4 billion annual plan this year based on state spending to combat COVID-19.
Advocates continue to plead the Democrat-controlled legislature to override Hogan’s veto when lawmakers are scheduled to return to Annapolis in January. Lawmakers approved the first three of years the plan that seeks to expand early childhood education, add special education resources and increase teacher salaries.
The trust and women’s law center report notes several inquiries on law enforcement intervention, but underscores one statement and question directly on school culture: “Police do not belong in schools. Has your district committed to ending the criminalization of Black and Brown students in schools?”
“We really need to focus on what we know matters and research shows that school resource officers often interact with students in ways that they shouldn’t,” Patrick said. “They are taking on classroom management, suspending girls for having a cell phone and interacting with them for minor offenses.”
The Prince George’s school board plans to discuss school resource officers Sept. 14.
Another part of the education trust and law center report questions whether a state or school district has a gender-neutral dress code that allows or prohibits a student wearing the same items of clothing identifies as a girl, boy, or nonbinary.
The Prince George’s system-wide dress code defines how students should wear pants, shirts, blouses, dresses, skirts and shoes. It doesn’t separately specify outfits for boys and girls.
However, those genders are highlighted for uniforms on some school websites.
“You can write something and not realize that it’s going to have a negative effect based on how it’s applied,” said Krystal Oriadha, co-founder of the LGBTQ Dignity Project in the county.

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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