Special education programs in secondary schools were developed to foster support and individualized education for students who have disabilities in our public school system. In recent years, these programs have become dumping grounds for students, particularly African-American and Latino male students. This has led to disproportionate representation in Special Education classes and Resource Specialist programs in public schools and has had further ramifications pertaining to school achievement and opportunities in higher education for the students affected. The students impacted by this, usually because of behavior or language issues, are not placed on track to complete their high school diploma, and usually only earn a Certificate of Completion from high school. Many of these students are placed in classes where their designation for special education is not clear. They are labeled as emotionally disturbed or as having some specific learning disability, which is never fully identified or explained in detail. The problem is that African-American and Latino males are disproportionately being funneled into special education programs in Los Angeles’ public school system. These students are often placed in special day classes and pull-out programs such as Resource Specialist programs excessively with relation to the current population of African-American and Latino students city-wide.
A quick look inside a special education class will illustrate two truths: 1) Minority males consist of over 90% of the students in these classes, and 2) Students were referred to these classes for reasons including behavior, second language learning, low reading or mathematics skills and even sexual orientation.
The problem of disproportionate representation is a longstanding one, and continues to occur in present day classes across the country. In order to fully utilize the special education process and programs to its fullest potential at Locke, there needs to be a deeper look at the causes and repercussions of continued over-representation of minority males in special education.
The key to solving this dilemma is proper identification and placement of all students in special education. The process needs to be revisited and procedures need to be put in place that guard against students being placed in special education classes without proper assessment and documentation and for reasons other than having an actual disability. Parental involvement is crucial as well and parents need to be aware that they have a voice and can disagree with, refuse and review decisions made at the school regarding their child’s individualized education plan. Until this issue is resolved, the services for students who have disabilities can never live to its potential.