Federal government moves against long-standing race-based disparities in special needs and ability- and race-based inequities in school discipline.
If you are an American Indian/Alaska Native student, you are more likely than your peers to be identified as a special needs student. If you are a special needs student, you are likely to see more of the principal than your non-disabled peers will. If you are a disabled student of color, particularly AI/AN or African American, you are likely to see a lot more of the principal.
Disabled Public School Students Suspended More Often
A 2014 report, “School Discipline, Restraint, & Seclusion,” released by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, found that in the nation’s public schools, more than twice as many students with disabilities received out-of-school suspensions (13 percent) than did non-disabled students (6 percent).
Further, an astounding 29 percent of AI/AN boys with disabilities received out-of-school suspensions, compared with 12 percent of white boys with disabilities. Twenty percent of AI/AN girls with disabilities received out-of-school suspensions, compared with 6 percent of white girls with disabilities.
Worse Inequities in Charter Schools
A new report from the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles, found even more egregious inequities in charter schools. According to the report, “1,093 charter schools suspended students with disabilities at a rate that was 10 or more percentage points higher than for students without disabilities. Perhaps the most alarming finding is that 235 charter schools suspended more than 50 percent of their enrolled students with disabilities.”
A Federal Law, A Federal Solution
The federal government is trying to do something about widespread, long-standing race-based disparities in special needs assignments and ability- and race-based inequities in school discipline.
The purpose of IDEA, passed in 1990 as a revised version of a 1975 law, is to create fairness in the identification, placement, and discipline of students with disabilities. The proposed rule will make it easier for states to ensure those goals are being met.
Why Are There So Many AI/AN Children in Special Ed?
One issue the rule addresses is why AI/AN and other children of color are placed in special education classes so often. Is it because they are misidentified as needing special education or is it because they are not getting the early intervention services that IDEA mandates to keep them out of special education classes and in regular classrooms?
The National Indian Education Association has long noted that AI/AN students are identified as in need of special education at higher rates than their peers. The organization said in a press release about the proposed rule, “We must ensure that our students are not being misidentified and over-represented in special education categories where they may not receive services to meet their academic or development needs.”
What Would the Rule Do?
A spokesman for the Department of Education wrote in an email to ICTMN, “The goal of the NPRM [Notice of Proposed Rulemaking] is to address the over-arching concern of ensuring all students with disabilities, regardless of color, are appropriately identified and receiving the services they need. Additionally, the NPRM also seeks to ensure one racial or ethnic group is not disciplined or placed in more restrictive settings more frequently than another racial or ethnic group.”
One way the NPRM would ensure more equity is by requiring states to develop “a common methodology … to use to identify districts that may have significant disproportionality [in children of color identified as needing special education]. This will allow for better comparability across states,” according to the Education Department.
Diane Smith-Howard, with the National Disability Rights Network told ICTMN, “The reason for the proposed regulation is that states were using different formulae to determine which districts were removing children from school disproportionately. So the measure had little meaning and it was possible that the districts with the most serious problems were being overlooked.”
A report released in February by the Department of Education, “A Multi-Year Disproportionality Analysis by State, Analysis Category, and Race/Ethnicity,” identified school districts with significant racial and ethnic disproportionality with respect to the identification, placement and discipline of students with disabilities. The report is “an example of one possible way to set a threshold for identifying significant disproportionality at the district level,” the department spokesman says.
Smith-Howard said, “The hope is that ED will provide guidance that will permit a more accurate determination—so that the districts that should use their 15 percent early intervening funds will do so effectively, and that districts that should continue to use that money for all special education programs continue to do so.”
What You Can Do
The comment period for the proposed rulemaking is open through May 16, 2016.