September 2, 2020

Willkie served as pro bono partner to Appleseed throughout the project.

Three members of the Appleseed Network, a non-profit network of independent organizations in the United States and Mexico working towards social and legal justice, released a comprehensive report, “Protecting Girls of Color from the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” the final product of a year-long research project examining disparities in school disciplinary treatment for Black girls in Massachusetts, Alabama, and Kansas. Willkie Farr & Gallagher, an international law firm, served as pro bono partner throughout the project.

The report’s findings show that girls of color, particularly Black girls, are consistently disciplined at a rate much higher than their white peers. Often, discipline is incurred more or to a greater extent by Black girls than their white peers for similar behavior. The findings also emphasize the significant change needed in school district disciplinary policies and data collection methods in order to protect girls of color from being funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline by means of excessive school discipline.

The report is part of the Network’s extensive efforts to dismantle the complex school-to-prison pipeline, a continuum encompassing the steps that drive children out of school and into the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems. Understanding how states approach school discipline is key: disciplinary policies including suspensions, expulsions, and school-based arrests may act as “gateways” to the criminal justice system later in their lives.

Willkie worked with representatives from Alabama Appleseed, Massachusetts Appleseed, and Kansas Appleseed to collect and analyze federal school disciplinary data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection database, as well as state-level data from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The report analyzes data available for five discipline categories: in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, referrals to law enforcement, and school-related arrests.

The Willkie team was led by partner Heather Schneider and included associates Victoria Tan and Katie DeAmico and law clerk David Howe.

The Appleseed news release and report can be found here.