Keep Her Safe: Centering Black Girls in School Safety

the National Women’s Law Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center with Black girls in Miami-Dade County Public Schools

This case study and report by the National Women’s Law Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center with Black girls in Miami-Dade County Public Schools demonstrates how critical insights can come from centering Black girls in the school safety conversation.

School leaders, local and state legislators, and even members of the U.S. Congress have responded to school shootings by investing more money into school hardening policies—increased police and security presence, metal detectors, harsher discipline codes, and other performative security measures. Prioritizing these unproven hardening efforts as the primary security strategy for our neighborhood schools has created a culture of criminalization in which students are policed and treated like threats to their school community, rather than children and teens worthy of protection.

Not only do school hardening measures make many Black girls feel less safe, the increased presence of school security increases the likelihood that they will be suspended and arrested. Black girls, in particular, are more likely to be referred to law enforcement and more likely to be arrested in school than white girls. Reliance on school security and police to address typical youth behavior contributes to students being pushed out of the classroom and into the school-to-prison pipeline. In addition, a school criminalization culture causes Black girls to suffer other harms that are often invisible to those who don’t experience them.

Keep Her Safe: Key Takeaways

Black girls at M-DCPS do not feel holistically safe in school. Instead, because of school policing and broader school cultures of criminalization, Black girls in M-DCPS experience:

  • Harsher treatment from school police and security guards or “pretty privilege” (different treatment from school police and security guards based on whether the officers perceive them as physically attractive).
  • Sexual harassment from security guards, often in the form of inappropriate comments about how girls look.
  • Body policing and profiling through dress code enforcement, particularly from security guards.
  • Public humiliation and shame during in-class police and K-9 searches.
  • Lack of autonomy and privacy caused by strict bathroom regulations.
  • Discipline settings, such as detention, that mimic prison-like conditions.
  • Minimal education and support for students at risk or who have survived sexual harassment and assault.

For Black girls, holistic safety means feeling physically, emotionally, and psychologically safe. Holistic safety also includes:

  • Safe relationships with trusted adults
  • Safety from discrimination
  • Safe resolutions to sexual harassment
  • Safety from school pushout

At minimum, school leaders and lawmakers should create holistically safe schools for all students by taking the following steps:

  • Invest in student support services.
  • Avoid school policies that police, surveil, and harshly punish students and instead, when needed, use proven positive behavioral interventions.
  • Ensure girls are safe from sexual harassment and assault, specifically including harassment by school police officers and security guards.
  • Expand understanding of school safety by engaging students in conversation about what a safe school is.