4 ways Black students with disabilities will get equal access in school

For one, school leaders should seek more authentic collaboration with families.

Here’s a big disconnect in special education: Black students with disabilities more often receive “stigmatizing classifications” such as intellectual disability, emotional disturbance, and developmental delay—which results in inadequate instructional support. But their parents report having more difficulty getting their children the special support they need.

And these are just two of the challenges these children face, according to the “Ignored, Punished, and Underserved” report by Bellwether Education. Compared to white students with disabilities, students of color with disabilities are more often:

  • Identified later in life and misidentified.
  • Unable to access necessary medical screenings and referrals for formal evaluations for disability support.
  • Placed in self-contained classes that comprise only students with disabilities, giving them fewer opportunities to interact with nondisabled peers.
  • Given more serious, school-based discipline and removed from class.
  • Restrained, physically and mechanically, relative to students with disabilities of other races.

And in some cases, poor-quality instruction and services convince families of color that special education is a “dead-end” intended only to segregate students, Bellwether’s report finds.

Doing better for Black students with disabilities

There are several steps district leaders and teachers can take to ensure Black students with disabilities receive the equal education to which they are entitled. Administrators should:

  1. Invest in more robust and authentic collaboration with families of children of color with disabilities.
  2. Prioritize the needs of families when creating engagement activities such as parent surveys, parent-teacher associations, communicating in families’ first languages, and partnering with advocacy groups.
  3. Overhaul the special education placement process for students of color.
  4. Ensure quality instruction when students’ needs can only be met in more restrictive settings.

Teachers and other frontline educators also have a role to play. They should, for example, take opportunities to participate in ongoing professional development in serving diverse learners and implementing culturally affirming practices.

The report also urges district leaders to lobby legislators and other policymakers to increase funding for early learning programs in communities of color and low-income communities. This would expand students’ access to high-quality early intervention, the report says. Educators, colleges of educators, policymakers and other community organizations should also work to recruit teachers of color in the profession.

For more guidance: Disproportionality in Special Education 

More from DA: Shorter work weeks become the incentive as districts struggle to hire new teachers


Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

Most Popular