Project Focus: An Analysis of Local Public Health Policy Development in Addressing Wellness for Girls of Color in Boston Public Schools
Author: Kia L. Byrd, MD Class of 2019
Mentor(s): Amy Rosenthal, MPA, MPH
PURPOSE: Girls of color disproportionately experience school discipline compared to White girls. The City of Boston and the National Black Women’s Justice Institute created Project Focus: GOC in an effort to advance more equitable school discipline policies and school culture reform. I examined how the experiences of Boston, school-aged girls of color are translated into local public health policy.
METHODS: The Kingdon model for political change—examining problem, policy, and political streams—was employed to analyze the policy development process. Public hearings were held to identify specific concerns on the topic; database searches were used to identify current school reform policy research and options; and statements from political actors and BPS representatives in local press were evaluated to elucidate respective positions on school culture reform.
RESULTS: Problem Stream The most recurring issues voiced by community members on the subject of school culture reform were a lack of cultural competence by faculty; a need for more trauma-centered support; and a prevalent culture of low expectations. Policy Stream A number of policy options for reform have been implemented in progressive locales such as Baltimore, San Francisco, and Fort Lauderdale. Political Stream Former councilor Ayanna Pressley’s political record has shown consistent support for issues related to girls and women of color, including support for school culture reform. Local political actors and stakeholders endorsed support for changes to BPS school discipline policies, though following the 2018 Massachusetts congressional elections, no current political figure leads the Project Focus initiative at present.
CONCLUSIONS: The Kingdon model is applicable to local policy-making regarding school discipline and culture reform in BPS and can serve as a helpful framework to predict and promote policy change in local public health. In order for policy change to occur, there needs to be a “window of opportunity” and someone to drive the process. While a number of policy makers have expressed interest in this issue, the current lack of a long-term local political champion for these issues may halt implementation of many proposed changes for reform.