Time and time again, we've seen disturbing videos of school resource officers and teachers using violence to punish young black girls. As part of our School Matters series, we spoke to a 13-year-old who says she was dragged outside and left in the cold by her teacher in the second grade.
Extreme punishment of black girls in schools is more common than you may think. According to a 2017 study by the National Women's Law Center, black girls are more than five times more likely to be suspended than white girls and are six times more likely to be expelled. Samaya Dillard, 13, and her family are not surprised by those numbers. Samaya's story was featured in a new documentary called "Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools." "I was basically bullied, or felt bullied, by my teacher," Samaya told CBS News correspondent Jericka Duncan. She said in second grade, an argument with another student led to her teacher dragging Samaya outside. "She then grabbed my chair that I was sitting in and dragged me across the room to the door and sat me outside," Samaya recounted.
"And this was the day before Christmas break," her father, Jason Dillard, added. "And then what happens?" Duncan asked. "So I just decided to leave," Samaya said. Their story made the local news in Sacramento. "You were near a freeway. In the documentary you say, 'Everything could be easier if I just jumped,'" Duncan said.
"Yeah," Samaya responded. "You thought about ending your life at the age of 7?"
"Yes," Samaya said. She said she felt confused and helpless.
Samaya's parents settled a lawsuit against the school and the teacher. The school district issued a statement saying, in part: "We hope that her story, and the stories of others will help other districts as it continues to help us." It's stories like Samaya's that pushed educator and author Monique W. Morris to raise awareness through the documentary. "You really begin to pick up on the stories across the country. You start to recognize that this is actually a pattern of violence against black girls," Morris said.
At the heart of the disparities, Morris said she thinks "black girlhood and womanhood is constructed by these ideas in our society — of them being hypersexual, of them being loud and angry." The film was screened last month at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and will air on PBS next year. "I want people to walk away from this documentary understanding, number one, that our girls are not disposable… and to really think about how we can shift our understanding of what constitutes a bad attitude or sassiness or combativeness," Morris said. Mo Canady, from the National Association of School Resource Officers, acknowledges there is a problem. "We are training our officers to go into the school environment and to realize that implicit bias exist, even their own, and how to combat that," Canady said. "At the end of the day, a good SRO really should want to have a positive impact on the lives of students." Psychologist Tyffani Monford Dent hopes to make that positive impact. "School systems need to begin to identify prevention strategies and actually buy into them," Dent said. Having worked in juvenile correctional facilities, she now organizes in school group therapy sessions for girls outside Cleveland, Ohio. "We also need to show black and brown kids that we care about them being here, that the goal is not to push you out of the school system," Dent said.
Morris said the relationship between schools and black communities need to be repaired. "I fundamentally believe that schools need to be locations for healing, so that they can be the locations for learning," Morris said. Samaya hopes one of the takeaways people have from the film is: "We are people too, and that we want to be heard. … Black girls are loved and sacred."
Morris said she has interviewed more than 150 girls, educators, and justice professionals and visited more than 30 communities throughout her career doing this research.