Sixty-two percent of the girls suspended last year in Fort Worth schools were black, a disturbing trend that district officials hope to change by offering female students more support.
“It’s troubling,” said Trustee Christene Moss, who has long been an advocate of racial-equity programs in Fort Worth schools. Moss said higher suspension rates for all African-American students has been an ongoing issue and Fort Worth’s statistics reflect a national problem.
Fort Worth, which has more than 86,000 students, is described as a majority-minority district. The majority of female students are Hispanic — 64 percent. About 23 percent are African-American, while white students make up about 11 percent.
But of the students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 who were suspended in the 2016-17 school year, 62 percent were black, 31 percent were Hispanic, 4 percent were white and 3 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander/other.
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The district is moving quickly with plans to contract with Girls, Inc. of Tarrant County, a nonprofit that helps girls ages 5 to 18 to build their confidence. The nonprofit, which began as Arlington Girls Club in the 1970s, has worked with Fort Worth schools for several years. It also has programs in Arlington, Birdville, Crowley, Hurst-Euless-Bedford and Keller schools.
“When girls are empowered, it brings up their self-esteem,” CEO Jennifer Limas said.
The program, for which the district has budgeted $163,500, will emphasize leadership.
‘They are not learning’
The plan is similar to support young men are receiving through the My Brother’s Keeper program. It will fold into a number of efforts underway that include implementing a racial equity policy, supporting literacy and academic programs aimed at helping all students and teacher training that shows educators different ways to handle classroom discipline.
“Anytime a student misses school, due to suspension, they are not learning and progressing,” school board President Tobi Jackson said in statement.
Under the program, counselors will help identify female students of all races who could benefit, said Sherry Breed, chief of equity and excellence for the district. There will be group sessions and one-on-one meetings, she said. Participants will be offered academic support, leadership skills, exploration of career opportunities and a focus on personal health.
Breed said the program will address the unique situations that might affect girls and help them answer questions such as: “How do you react and how do you react when you are angry?”
Limas said girls will be encouraged to take on challenges with confidence. They will also talk through issues so they make the best choices.
Limas said the girls they work with are getting promoted to the next grade level, graduating on time and receiving less behavioral referrals.
‘Need to do the research’
Breed said that while the district doesn’t yet have hard data on the male program, discipline referrals are going down and participants are learning to make better decisions.
Moss and Jackson said the reason for this trend needs to be pinpointed.
“We first need to do the research and find out what are the causes,” Moss said.
The effort comes as the state and school districts work to address school suspensions. In May, Texas lawmakers passed House Bill 674, which prohibits suspension of students in pre-K through second grade. The Fort Worth school district restricted suspensions up to third grade earlier this year as part of the current Student Code of Conduct.
Moss said in the past the district has suspended students in pre-kindergarten. Now, the district works with parents of younger students to address discipline issues at such a young age, she said.
“That is something we are working on,” Moss said.
By the numbers
Discipline and demographic data for girls attending Fort Worth schools for 2016-17 academic year:
▪ White: 4,571 (10.7 percent)
▪ African-American: 9,855 (23 percent)
▪ Hispanic: 26,904 (63.8 percent)
▪ Asian/Pacific Islander/two or more races: 1,486 (3.5 percent)
▪ White: 202 (3.7 percent)
▪ African-American: 3,361 (61.8 percent)
▪ Hispanic: 1,703 (31.3 percent)
▪ Asian/Pacific Islander/two or more races: 174 (3.2 percent)
This report contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.