Why Are More African-American Students Placed in Special Education?

Why Are More African-American Students Placed in Special Education?

Eight Pennsylvania families accuse the Lower Marion School District of racial discrimination.

Published August 31, 2011

In a study published in Educational Researcher, author Wanda J. Blanchett argues that race matters when it comes to referring African-American students to special education classes.


In the four-page report, Blanchett contends that educational resource allocation, inappropriate curriculum and instructional strategies, and inadequate teacher preparation have only widened the gap between white and Black students.


“Although the field of special education was formed on the heels of the Brown decision and applied rhetoric and tactics from the civil rights movement, the disproportionate referral and placement of African-American students in special education has become a discursive tool for exercising white privilege and racism,” Blanchett writes.


Eight families of Black students from Ardmore, Pennsylvania, have now taken that sentiment to the court room.


The families of the students claimed in a civil suit dating back to 2007 that the Lower Merion School District disproportionately placed Black students in special education and low-level classes.


The families claimed that while African-Americans only make up about eight percent of the student population each year, they make up nearly double that of the district’s special education population — about 14 percent, according to local newspaper The Ardmore Patch.


The plaintiffs further alleged that there were no African-American students in any honors, AP or IB courses between 2005 and 2008. The school district is also accused of misidentifying certain African-American students “as being disabled and mentally retarded in order to remove them from the general curriculum,” the report adds.


The plaintiffs filed documents on Friday opposing the district's earlier motion for summary judgment. The school district has until Sept. 2 to respond.


Reports The Ardmore Patch:


“Simply put, African-American students are not receiving the district’s famously touted ‘blue ribbon’ education that their Caucasian peers enjoy,” reads the plaintiffs’ memorandum opposing LMSD’s motion for summary judgment."


"However, the district maintains that's just not the case. African-American students in LMSD are exceeding state averages in PSSA scores, are graduating and attending college at much higher rates than is the national average and that African-American enrollment in honors and AP courses has 'improved dramatically, with levels now approaching white peers,' [district spokesman Doug Young] wrote in an emailed statement to Patch."


Earlier this year, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania set a Nov. 1 trial date to settle the dispute.


Written by Britt Middleton


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