The overrepresentation of African Americans and English language learners in special education have prompted much disquiet in the education society. Despite there being Acts like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which seek to ensure that all Americans access quality education regardless of their race, the overrepresentation of minority groups and English language learners in special education is still evident.
The United States Supreme Court has adjudicated innumerable cases involving biased placement of minority groups in special education. In all cases, plaintiffs complain about discriminative procedures used to select students to be placed in special education. The Supreme Court abolished the majority of selection procedures, which were deemed discriminative. However, this did not help to curb the overrepresentation of minority groups like African Americans and English language learners in special education.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law that seeks to ensure that all American schools offer quality education to persons with disabilities (Yell, 2012). The law requires all schools to come up with the necessary parameters for identifying if a child requires special education (Willie, Garibaldi & Reed, 1991). Despite the Act, schools in the United States refer African Americans and English language learners to special education without assessing them to determine if they qualify for special programs. Failure to assess children from African American background and English language learners have led to the overrepresentation of these two groups in special education.
Overrepresentation refers to an imbalanced number of students in one program, where one group of students dominates the program. Overrepresentation of African Americans and English language learners in special education is a challenging phenomenon in the United States (Zhang & Katsiyannis, 2002). This paper will focus on the challenge of the overrepresentation of African Americans and English language learners in special education and analyze some of the litigations that have emerged from this problem.
Factors that contribute to the overrepresentation
Numerous factors contribute to the overrepresentation of African Americans and English language learners (ELLs) in special education. One of the factors is the fear of African Americans by White American teachers. According to Weinstein, Tomlinson-Clarke and Curran (2004), African Americans and English language learners dominate secondary and elementary schools. The majority of teachers in the United States are Whites (Ladson-Billings, 2001).
These teachers hail from White-dominated localities, and they study in preponderantly white colleges. Therefore, the teachers tend to fear African Americans since they have never had a chance to interact with them. This fear and absence of checks and balances to cater for racial imbalance in education programs lead to the teachers referring the majority of the African Americans and English language learners to special education programs.
Johnson (2006) posits that another factor that contributes to the overrepresentation of African Americans and ELLs in special education is negative perceptions of these groups. Discussions in the educational and psychological writing concerning ELLs and African Americans depict these people as thick, violent, and drug addicts. Therefore, teachers overlook the intellectual capacity of children from these groups, hence, referring them to special education. They consider children from these groups as “unteachable”, therefore, requiring special attention. This stereotyping is what contributes to the overrepresentation of African Americans and ELLs in special education.
Another factor that contributes to overrepresentation is misdiagnosis and biased referrals. Institutions use mild mentally retarded (MMR) and Severe emotional disturbed (SED) as the two methods of diagnosis. However, Patton (1998) alleges that these methods are, in most cases, subjective and not based on certifiable biological standards. Consequently, African Americans and ELLs are erroneously referred to special education even when they meet all the requirements for enrolling in regular education.
Effects of overrepresentation
Placement of African Americans and ELLs in special education has enduring implications. The placement triggers a stigmatizing effect, which affects students emotionally. Students placed in special education suffer from low self-esteem, which affects their ability to pursue personal goals. Another effect of the overrepresentation of African Americans and ELLs in special education is an increase in the number of school dropouts and crimes.
Special education aims at giving disabled students special services that would help them get jobs after leaving school. However, this does not happen. The program offers a poor curriculum relative to general education. Hence, it exposes students to risks of renouncing education and engaging in criminal activities since they do not gain skills that could help them get good jobs. With these challenges, the placement of African Americans and ELLs in special education affects the quality of life that these groups live.
Several court cases documents on litigations involving the overrepresentation of African Americans in special education. The court cases demonstrate how different states respond to educational issues affecting individuals with disabilities in the United States. One of such court cases is Daniel R.R. v. State Board of Education. Daniel R.R. v. State Board of Education is one of the renowned cases that sought to interpret the IDEA.
During the adjudication process, the Supreme Court maintained that disabled students had the right to benefit from services that general education tenders (Daniel R.R. v. State Board of education, 1989). Nevertheless, the court stated, “IDEA does not contemplate an all-or-nothing educational system in which [disabled] children attend either regular or special education” (Katsiyannis, Yell & Bradley, 2001, p. 326). Instead, the Act calls for schools to provide a range of services. Therefore, the school ought to take transitional actions whenever necessary, like allowing the student to partake in regular education in those classes that he or she can and placing the student in special education for the classes that he or she encounters challenges.
Other litigations include Winkelman v. Parma City School District, Forest Groove School District v. T. A., Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, Larry P. v. Riles, Diana v. State Board of Education, and Hobson v. Hansen, among others. The Supreme Court insisted that the IDEA grants the parents the powers to file a case if they learn that schools are exploiting their children in the case involving Winkelman v. Parma City School District (Winkelman v. Parma City School District, 2007). To support its decision, the court argued that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act “establishes several autonomously enforceable rights in parents” (Katsiyannis, Yell & Bradley, 2001, p. 327).
The Forest Groove School District v. T. A. involved a contention whether the IDEA provides for compensation of tuition fees paid for special education programs. The Supreme Court maintained that the parents had the right to get their money back irrespective of if the disabled student had undertaken a special education program before. To support its stand, the Supreme Court argued that the IDEA demands that schools that do not avail free appropriate public education (FAPE) to disabled students refund their money in full (Forest Grove School District v. T.A., 2009).
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was another remarkable case that reveals the adverse effects of the overrepresentation of African Americans and ELLs in special education. The petitioner argued that the objective of integrating disabled students in general education is to help them benefit from the program (Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 1954). Brown claimed that special education programs did not offer quality services and, therefore, African Americans and ELLs were disadvantaged. In passing the judgment, the Supreme Court found that the placement of minority groups in special education robbed them of their right to equal educational opportunities.
To support its argument, the court relied on past litigations that showed that the placement of minority groups in special education denied them their right to equal educational opportunities. Larry P. v. Riles case involved five African American children that complained about the use of Intelligence Quotient (IQ) tests when placing children under the Educable Mentally Retarded program (EMR). They claimed that the tests were biased and discriminative (Larry P v. Riles, 1979). The Supreme Court found that the tests contravened both the Civil Rights and Rehabilitation Acts. Therefore, the court ordered the defendants to make sure that they assess their placement policies to make sure that they did not encourage the overrepresentation of African Americans in special education.
Other court cases that addressed the overrepresentation of minority groups in special education include Diana v. State Board of Education, Hobson v. Hansen, and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents. Diana v. State Board of Education entailed litigation challenging the application of IQ tests when deciding on whether to place ELLs in EMR classes (Diana v. State Board of Education, 1970). Plaintiffs argued that the test was discriminative as children were unable to pass it due to language barrier and not low IQ. The Supreme Court maintained that the procedure contravened the Equal Protection article enshrined in the U.S Constitution. In the end, the court ordered the defendants to administer an IQ test using the chief language of the children. The court abolished the IQ test as the ultimate tool for determining children to place in special education.
Hobson v. Hansen was a case that challenged the espousal of homogeneous capacity groups by the board of education. Plaintiff claimed that such espousal denied African Americans and ELLs their right to equal educational opportunities. The court maintained that such an espousal was discriminative, and it did not measure the student’s ability (Hobson v. Hansen, 1970). Hence, it placed students in certain groups based on their social status and notabilities. The court abolished the espousal of homogeneous capacity groups.
McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents is a critical case, which helped the U.S Supreme Court in passing judgment in Brown v. Board of Education. The University of Oklahoma declined to admit McLaurin because of the segregation law. McLaurin filed a complaint, where the Supreme Court abolished the segregation law and ordered the university to admit him (McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, 1950). The court held that the segregation law contravened the Equal Protection article protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. The judgment pointed out that the Supreme Court was not ready to entertain any preferential handling of students because of their race.
Winkelman v. Parma City School District and Forest Groove School District v. T. A. touch on parents’ involvement in making sure that schools offer quality special education programs. All the other cases cited in this article prove that the reason behind the overrepresentation of African Americans and English language learners in special education is biasness in the selection procedure. All the cases lay blame for current overrepresentation on biased selection methods applied when determining the children to enrol for special education.
Connection to the P-12 Schools
Formerly, IDEA made sure that public schools offer free appropriate public education to students with disabilities. The demand for special education increases with an increase in the population of African Americans and English language learners across the United States. Hence, more schools will require offering the service to meet the demand. State governments will turn to P-12 schools for assistance in the implementation of special education programs.
The majority of the local school districts encounter challenges in offering special education due to cost (Hagdorn, 2009). Therefore, students that are capable of paying for the services will turn to P-12 schools. One of the major challenges that P-12 schools will face is offering quality services to all students indiscriminately. To avoid future litigations, P-12 schools will have to upgrade their services. The major benefactors of IDEA and court cases like Forest Groove School District v. T.A are the students. In future, students will enjoy quality special education as P-12 schools strive to safeguard their reputation by avoiding court cases.
The burden of overcoming overrepresentation in special education and court cases lies on teachers and administrators. To ensure that no students demand reimbursement of their tuition fees, the teachers and the administration will have to ensure that they evaluate their special education systems to verify if they offer all services that different students require. This will help in making sure that students attend all the required classes, therefore, curbing cases of some students claiming that they did not attend all the classes and that they require compensation for the classes they did not attend. Moreover, teachers and administrators should ensure that they evaluate the educational needs of every student before enrollment. The evaluation would assist them to enroll only those students that their schools can accommodate.
Significance of the topic
The United States has witnessed an overrepresentation of African Americans and English language learners in special education, for a long time. Procedures used to identify the students to place under this program are discriminative, hence, depriving the majority of the African Americans and English language learners of the right to enrol for regular education programs. In return, the majority of the students placed in special education end up suffering from low self-esteem and others engage in criminal activities. The significance of this topic is to bring out the negative effects of the overrepresentation of African Americans and English language learners in special education. In addition, the topic identifies numerous cases that the Supreme Court has ever adjudicated.
In doing this, the topic acts as a revelation to African Americans and English language learners. It identifies some of the judgments the Supreme Court has ever made, therefore, enlightening the African Americans and ELLs on their rights and avenues they can apply to claim for their educational rights. As demand for special education and the number of minority groups continue swelling up, states are likely to turn to P-12 schools for assistance. The schools would have to evaluate the needs of individual students to ensure that they upgrade their special education systems to meet these needs.
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Daniel R.R. v. State Board of education, 88-1279 (United States Court of Appeals, 1989). Web.
Diana v. State Board of Education, (U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, 1970). Web.
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