We responded to the US Department of Education’s request for comments on the issue of minority students disproportionately being identified as needing special education.
Nationwide, a disproportionate number of minority students are identified for special education. 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.
Sonja Kerr, director of disabilities rights, said in her comments submitted on behalf of the Law Center, “It is now high time, indeed past time, for the Department of Education to take more vigorous action to eliminate disproportionality: to do more than simply count the numbers and to instead stop the misidentification of minority children.”
The Law Center supports adoption of a nationally mandated standard calculation that states would use to determine disproportionality. Local population issues are important and must be considered, but we cannot let districts continue to over-identify minorities as needing special education.
“The Law Center appreciates an opportunity to engage in this important discussion and looks forward to working with the Department to move forward with a proactive approach… [that] addresses how children are properly identified, taught, and fairly disciplined in their educational settings,” Ms. Kerr said.
Click here to learn more about this issue and our related work in the Lower Merion School District, and to read our suggestions to the Department of Education about how to address the problem.