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Sunday 5th of April 2020

Documentation Center

School Culture & Discipline Reform in Boston-Area Primary and Secondary Schools

National Black Women’s Justice Institute (NBWJI), Boston City Councilor At-Large Ayanna Pressley


Girls of color, particularly those who identify as Black/African American/African Diaspora, Hispanic/Latinx, and Indigenous, disproportionately experience exclusionary school discipline, including, but not limited to, suspension, expulsion, referrals to law enforcement and arrest.12

 Across the nation and in Boston, girls of color have described experiencing discipline in response to their expressions, presentation, and/or identity, instead of in response to an actual threat to school safety.

Exclusionary discipline is linked to loss of instruction time, poor student performance, and the exacerbation of trauma, which can pave a pathway to contact with the juvenile court and criminal legal system. Research-based best practices in education suggest that alternatives to exclusionary discipline and harsh responses to negative student behavior are more effective in building relationships that develop and sustain safety on campus.

The National Black Women’s Justice Institute (NBWJI) and Boston City Councilor At-Large Ayanna Pressley partnered in a participatory project that centered the experiences of girls of color in the co-construction of strategies to produce safe learning conditions for girls of color. This initiative,

Project Focus: Girls of Color, engaged girls of color as policy stakeholders in the development of a school culture that is responsive to their needs. For this project, NBWJI led focus groups with over 100 girls of color attending Boston-area primary and secondary schools, as well as parents/guardians and school personnel. Subsequent to the focus groups, Councilor At-Large Pressley held two listening-only public hearings.

 The first hearing provided space for the girls to provide public testimony regarding their experiences and needs in school, and to offer solutions for how schools could address them. The second hearing provided a platform for school leaders to provide public testimony regarding policies and practices that aim to improve student outcomes by reducing disparities among the use of punitive school discipline practices. Both hearings were held with the intention of uplifting community perspectives regarding the creation of safe and supportive learning environments for girls of color and their broader school communities.

The following recommendations are a summary of evidence-based practices and innovative solutions from participants in this project. These recommendations, while intended for Boston-area primary and secondary schools—inclusive of Boston Public Schools (BPS), charters, private, and religious institutions—can be considered and applied in school models nationwide.


North America - United States

Year Language

2018 English

Category Type

International Texts Recommendation


Bullying, Child, Education, Minorities, Reform

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  • International Juvenile Justice Observatory (IJJO). Belgian Public Utility Foundation

    All rights reserved

  • Head Office: Rue Mercelis, nº 50. 1050. Brussels. Belgium

    Phone: 00 32 262 988 90. Fax: 00 32 262 988 99. oijj@oijj.org

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