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Report: Black girls suffer most from policing in Florida school district

When S.D. walked through the halls of her Florida high school, security guards looked at her inappropriately, gaping at her body.

“I’m a female with curves,” she said, requesting anonymity. “No one touched me, no one said anything, but the looking. It happened in the halls, outside, walking back and forth in school, multiple times a day.”

The North Miami Senior High School alumna described the precautions she, as a Black teenage girl, had to take each school day to limit her contact with the male security guards, most of them under age 30.

“I tried to keep my distance to avoid a situation, but I observed that a lot of times, the prettier females with curvy bodies, [security guards] would try to make conversation,” she said.

Report cover featuring a woman's profile under words Keep Her Safe: Centering Black Girls in School Safety.
The 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 is available on the NWLC website. (Click on image)

Her experience in Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) due to school policing is common, according to a new report, Keep Her Safe: Centering Black Girls in School Safety. The report was co-produced by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

S.D. and the other current or former district students who spoke with the SPLC for this story participated in the report project.

Traversing the halls of Miami-Dade County public high schools can be a minefield for Black girls and young women.

Every day, the security guards patrol these halls in the name of safety despite evidence in the report that they create an environment of fear, helplessness and anxiety for students of color, particularly for Black girls. The district employs more school police and security guards than any other Florida school district.

Previous national studies have shown that school police arrest Black girls at higher rates than white girls. The reliance on law enforcement “to address typical youth behavior contributes to students being pushed out of the classroom and into the school-to-prison pipeline,” according to the report, which is heavily footnoted with national data from previous studies.

It is the first to primarily highlight the voices of Black girls and young women ages 14 to 24 who have attended M-DCPS and have been harmed by the practice. In the report, participants are identified only by the school they currently or formerly attended.

“What makes this report different is it’s an opportunity to hear directly from the girls and bring them into the center of the school safety conversation,” said Bayliss Fiddiman, director of educational equity and senior counsel at the NWLC, which fights for gender justice. “Stats show trends, but they don’t show day-to-day experiences. That’s what we wanted to hear.”

A significant portion of the 76-page report documents this common criminalization of Black girls and young women who are disproportionately disciplined in schools that have been hardened in the name of safety.

“School hardening” refers to the installation of metal detectors, bullet-resistant glass, security cameras and increased policing and student searches.

“The report shows a death by 1,000 cuts – the daily micro-aggressions, the dehumanizing of Black girls,” said Bacardi Jackson, SPLC deputy legal director of the Democracy: Education and Youth litigation team, which is dedicated to protecting children’s rights.

‘They make us feel insecure’

E.S., a junior at Miami Northwestern Senior High School, also tries to keep her head down to avoid being noticed by her school’s security officers.

“If they see you outside of class or walking to the bathroom, they just come up and talk to you – to flirt with me – just because they do that with the other girls,” she said.

E.S. recounted a recent incident at the high school where a security guard has since been arrested and is facing charges for touching the buttocks of two female students and asking a student for a sexual favor.

“They are supposed to keep us safe in school, but do the opposite,” E.S. said. “They make us feel insecure.”

One girl included in the report captured the feeling of being on edge all the time.

“I just feel like they’re just waiting for us to make one small, minor mistake, and they’re ready to arrest us,” the girl, who requested anonymity, said in the report. “I’ve only seen them arrest students. … [T]hat’s all they’re good for. … It’s like, what’s the point in going to school? It makes us not want to go to school because we feel like we can’t make one minor mistake.”

The SPLC’s Jackson said that being subjected daily to school policing normalizes harmful practices that affect Black female students. What’s more, the report shows that officers are insufficiently trained to recognize typical teenage behavior and are unable to judge whether a misbehaving student requires use of force or simply a conversation with a school counselor or psychologist.

“They are constantly on the defensive being in school,” Jackson said. “The report told us that there desperately needs to be school climate and discipline policies to include the perspective of Black girls who don’t feel safe.”


Black female students in this school environment also face the problem of “adultification bias,” where teachers, school administrators and school police perceive them as older than white girls of the same age. This leads to more school discipline, harm and arrest of Black girls and young women, according to the report.

This was the high school experience of the 23-year-old artist and college student who goes by the name Mel de Miami. She was the only Black student in her Advanced Placement classrooms at the mostly white, liberal Miami Palmetto Senior High School.

“I was 5-feet-8 in high school, chubbyish and more developed than the girls my age,” she said. “I couldn’t even wear something showing my shoulder or [security officers] would tell me it was inappropriate. The white girls would wear super short shorts, so short they looked like denim diapers, so their whole thighs were showing, but their thighs were skinny and mine were wider because of my proportions, and it was scandalous!”

Seeking safety after a tragedy

Nationally, schools have been hardening for decades, particularly after the deadly mass shooting at Colorado’s Columbine High School in 1998. The report details how Florida schools got to this point. The 2018 mass killing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, turned the conversation over school safety and hardening measures into a public and political panic.

Florida’s answer was the 2019 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. Based on the recommendations of the political appointees of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which convened in the wake of the shooting, the commission “prioritized criminalization” and “shut students and families most affected by school hardening out of the school safety decision-making processes,” according to the report. The SPLC filed a lawsuit against the commission in 2020 for preventing students from voicing their concerns to the body. That suit was later settled with an agreement from the commission that it would make its meetings more accessible to members of the public, including students.

‘Police state’

Ultimately, M-DCPS’ spending on “public safety” more than doubled from $9.5 million in 2017-18 to over $20 million each school year since. In 2019, the SPLC released another report on the damaging effects of school hardening on students called, Safe For Whom?

Around the same time, numerous incidents of Florida police in schools abusing or arresting young Black girls and teens made national news – namely the cases of 6-year-old Kaia Rolle, teen Taylor Bracey and an unidentified middle schooler. Ultimately, the Kaia Rolle Act, which prohibits arrest of children who are 7 and younger, was passed in Florida. The SPLC Action Fund, the SPLC’s lobbying arm, pushed for raising the age to 12.

“We were looking at how do we push back on M-DCPS’ police state,” Jackson said.

The latest report was born out of a meeting between Jackson and a board member of an SPLC partner organization, Power U. The board member raised the issue of Black girls being harassed by these school officers – an issue that is usually not part of the school safety conversation. The conversation eventually led to the creation of the Keep Her Safe report by the SPLC and the NWLC. Other contributors and co-authors include girls from Girl Power Rocks, Overtown Youth Center and Power U.

Future advocacy

The young women featured in the report were not only heard, but helped write the report’s recommendations for legislators, policymakers and school district administrators. They endorse the reallocation of spending from school hardening and policing to school counselors and psychologists. Funds should also provide training for teachers to recognize when a student is having a mental or emotional health crisis. The report emphasizes the use of proven, alternative disciplinary measures over policing.

On March 10, five of the report’s student authors received advocacy training from the NWLC and the SPLC.

“We want the girls to lead the advocacy in their community, not us,” Jackson said.

For S.D., that advocacy cannot come too soon.

“Before I participated in the report, I wanted to be a hospital nurse, but it was a learning experience for me,” she said. “Now I’m looking at social work, psychology or psychiatric advocacy.”

Photo at top: Keep Her Safe: Centering Black Girls in School Safety, a report co-produced by the National Women’s Law Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center, addresses the issues faced by Black girls who are current or former students in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools. (Credit: SPLC).