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Education and Schools

There’s No “Magic” Solution to Bullying and Harassment, But the Safe Schools Improvement Act is an Important Start

“My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic” is a cartoon show that has captured the imaginations of many, with a huge fan base of kids and adults alike. The lessons about kindness relayed in that show should be reinforced by the adults in children’s lives, particularly by those who teach children in our schools. Yet that is not always the case, as 9-year-old North Carolina student Grayson Bruce recently learned. When Grayson was bullied at school for wearing a “girlie” My Little Pony backpack, his school’s administrators told him the solution was simple: Stop bringing the backpack, which was “triggering” the bullying. In other words, he was to blame, not the kids who tormented him for being different from a stereotypical boy.

Grayson’s outraged mother launched a Facebook page in protest, and soon attracted over 700,000 fans. When school officials heard the outcry, they met with Grayson’s parents and reversed their decision. “Every situation with young children is a teachable moment and we will use this example in our efforts to address a wider issue of bullying. The Bruce family has committed to working with us to improve and enhance our anti-bullying programs,” administrators have since stated. Read more »

"Every data point represents a life:" New Data Shed Light on Educational Disparities

We are all familiar with the saying “knowledge is power,” and when it comes to ensuring equal access to educational opportunities, it couldn’t be more true. Far too many students are still not receiving the education they deserve, and data are critical to understanding the magnitude of educational inequity throughout the country.

Today, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released new civil rights data, the first of its scope in nearly 15 years. The new 2011-12 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) compiles data from all 97,000 public schools and 16,500 school districts. This represents 49 million students across the country. And, for the first time ever, all state-, district-, and school-level data are searchable in an online database. These comprehensive data can empower parents, advocates, and local and state governments to assess their schools and help create informed policies that better support students.

Some of the new key data findings that relate to girls and other issues we focus on at NWLC include: Read more »

Absurdity: Corporal Punishment Edition

Earlier this week, Kansas State Representative Gail Finney introduced an appalling bill that would relax the limitations on spanking by parents, caregivers, and school officials across the state of Kansas.* This bill [PDF] would define corporal punishment as “up to 10 forceful applications in succession of a bare, open-hand palm against the clothed buttocks of a child,” and if you hit hard enough to leave redness or bruising – this law lets you know that’s okay.

For two years I taught in a rural school in Louisiana, so this hits really close to home. When I first showed up I knew that corporal punishment was legal – schools still have the authority to use physical discipline methods in 19 states – but I had no idea how frequently I would witness teachers and administrators physically discipline students. According to a study [PDF] conducted by the Louisiana Department of Education, 11,520 instances of corporal punishment occurred in 43 districts in a single school year (districts in Louisiana can choose if they allow corporal punishment on an individual basis, and for most the chosen form of punishment is paddling with a wooden board).

I’m not an expert on corporal punishment, but from my experience I can say that there are 4 major reasons corporal punishment is just an all-around bad idea… Read more »

Principal's Office or Police Station: New Guidance on School Discipline

With the proliferation of “zero tolerance” policies and the increased presence of law enforcement in schools, far too many students are suspended, expelled, or arrested for minor offenses and misbehavior. These policies are pushing students — mostly students of color and students with disabilities — out of school. Read more »

Pregnant or Parenting Student Moms, This is for You!

If you’re a student who is or may be pregnant, a student who is parenting, or a parent thinking about going back to school to further your education, here’s my holiday gift to you. I hope you can use it!

First off, know your rights as a student under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. At stake is your life and well-being and that of your children, so don’t just take Professor So-and-So’s word for it if you are told you should drop out of the program, switch programs, skip a semester, or accept failure. Brandi Kostal at Logan University in St. Louis and Stephanie Stewart at one of the City University of New York’s many community colleges did not take it when their respective universities would not excuse their pregnancy-related absences nor allow them to make up work they missed. Instead, they sought help and made noise. NWLC filed complaints on behalf of both Brandi and Stephanie and secured settlements – one just last week – in which their colleges agreed to take important steps to prevent and address such discrimination, including adopting new policies regarding the treatment of pregnant and parenting students.

So sure, your professor gave you a syllabus at the beginning of the semester. And maybe it said that you can’t miss a certain number of classes without failing the course. But Title IX says that your school must excuse your absences due to pregnancy or related conditions, including childbirth and recovery, for as long as your doctor says it’s medically necessary. It’s important to know your rights! Read more »

Logan Adopts New Title IX Policy—Other Colleges, Take Note

In July, the National Women’s Law Center (and co-counsel B. Lane Hasler) filed a Title IX complaint against Logan College of Chiropractic University Programs in St. Louis for maintaining an attendance policy that treats pregnancy-related absences as unexcused and for discriminating against pregnant student Brandi Kostal. Today, we settled the case, with Logan agreeing to take important steps to ensure that this type of discrimination does not happen again.

Title IX protects against sex discrimination in education, and pregnancy discrimination is sex discrimination. The law guarantees that schools must give all students who might be, are, or have been pregnant the same access to school programs and extracurricular activities that other students have. This means that schools must excuse absences for as long as the student’s doctor says is necessary, and must let the student make up the work missed while out. These rules apply to all schools that receive federal funds—including colleges whose students get federal financial aid. In June, the Department of Education issued guidance on Title IX’s application to schools’ treatment of pregnant and parenting students, which reaffirmed that students who miss classes, clinic hours, or any other educational programs due to pregnancy and related conditions cannot be penalized and must be given the opportunity to make up work they miss. The law is clear, but many schools do not adopt policies or practices consistent with their obligations under Title IX. Read more »

Reclaim Public Ed

Organizations around the country are setting today aside to have a focused conversation about education. The National Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education comes in response to recent school closings, reduced funding, and other cuts that are affecting public education across the United States.

For the National Women’s Law Center, bringing attention to the shortfalls of the education system is important because there’s a lot at stake for at-risk girls, women and families, and their communities. Here are some important reminders why it’s important to #ReclaimPublicEd.

Hair Haters

When I was a little girl, it was not very popular for Black girls to wear their hair in natural styles. Cornrows were cool, but if you were a Black girl growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, straight hair was one of the requirements for being considered beautiful. Or at least that’s what it felt like to me, based on the images I saw during that time; beauty queens, Barbie dolls, and cover girls (with the exception of Essence and Ebony Magazines) rarely had kinky curls. If you have a relaxer in 2013, you are in the minority (or at least it seems like it) – which is why I was baffled by the contents of a Baltimore Sun story I read today about a young girl named Danielle Cook.

Danielle is a 13-year-old honor student who attends Afya Public Charter School – and wants to attend a top high school. A straight-A student her entire academic life, Danielle thought she had a lot of options. Unfortunately, she found out that while she could apply to the private Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, she would not be able to attend because of her hair. Danielle has had dreadlocks since she was nine years old – a choice all her own, according to her mother – and in order to enroll Cristo Rey she would have to get rid of them.

The good news is that a spokesperson for Cristo Rey told the Baltimore Sun that the policy is no longer in place, and that the school embraces its student’s diversity – racial, religious, and ethnic. Although the school claimed that “no student has declined our offer because of any standards related to the dress code,” changing their policy was the right thing to do. Read more »

Unsafe Spaces: Sexual Harassment and Violence Are Plaguing our Nation’s Schools

After leaving a homecoming dance, a high school girl was brutally raped. Other students photographed the rape but never reported it to police or school officials. Other girls in the school said they felt unsafe and avoided school activities. An employee at the school watched female students change clothes in the bathroom and inappropriately touched them. He was merely reprimanded and allowed to serve as the assistant girls’ basketball coach the next year. Middle school students in the district routinely faced physical and verbal harassment in front of teachers--including grabbing of breasts and genitals and calling male students “faggot” if they weren’t stereotypically masculine. The teachers often failed to report the harassment, let alone address it.

These incidents are actual findings from a recent Department of Education Title IX investigation of a school district in California. And they are not isolated examples, but reflect a widespread problem facing our nation’s schools and colleges. The pattern is all too familiar. A student is sexually assaulted or harassed, the school doesn’t respond appropriately, so the student faces escalating harassment, often both at school and online, and ends up feeling like she has no place to hide, no place where she is safe. Read more »

Kansas Boy Suspended for Not Being Manly Enough

Ready for the absurd?

Yesterday a Kansas school suspended a 13-year old student for wearing a purse. Happened to be a Vera Bradley bag, but that shouldn’t matter, because it wasn’t the bright colors or quilted paisley design that prompted the disciplinary action. It was the fact that the student is a boy. There is no school rule about wearing purses, and female students who do so are not punished. But widely held, stubborn stereotypes are that females carry purses and men don’t. This boy, Skylar, defied that stereotype, and his school wouldn’t tolerate it. Read more »