Disproportionality: Segregation Through Special Education

When placed in special or remedial education programs, students of average or above-average intelligence quickly fall behind their peers – an obstacle to success that persists throughout their lives. Federal special education law recognizes that problem and imposes certain obligations on the state and school district if a school district has “significant disproportionality.” The problem is that federal law gives wide leeway to states as to how to define the ratios of disproportionality.

In 1997, in reauthorizing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Congress specifically declared it wrong to misidentify African-American students as needing special education when they did not need such services. Congress noted that this type of “overidentification and disproportionality” requires that states have in effect policies and procedures to prevent the inappropriate overidentification or disproportionate representation by race and ethnicity [20 U.S.C. §1412(a)(25)].  Research shows that throughout the years African American students have been misidentified as having developmental intellectual disabilities, emotional disturbance, and specific learning disabilities. Despite this strong research and legal background, parents of children who are African American, or of other non-white ethnic origins, continue to be plagued by misidentification.

Case Progress

September 2014
Class Action: Blunt v. LMSD

July 2014
Law Center Comments on Disproportionality

November 2013
A.G. v. LMSD

July 2012
S.H. v. LMSD

March 2011
B.D. & Compensatory Education

March 2011
G.J. & Independent Evaluation

March 2011
J.W. & Implementation of Free and Appropriate Education

February 2011
W.J.W. & Administrative Court Enforcement

February 2011
K.R. & Statute Of Limitation Claim

December 2010
S.L. & Guaranteed Due Process Hearing

Staff on the Case
Ben Geffen
Benjamin Geffen