Students of color more likely to be identified as disabled

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COLUMBIA – Students of color are more likely to be identified as having a disability and face harsher discipline than their white classmates, the United States Department of Education announced Tuesday.

The nation’s special education law, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, aims to ensure fairness in the identification, placement and discipline of students with disabilities. The Department of Education is now proposing an amendment to IDEA after research revealed disparity persists throughout the country.

"We have a moral and a civil rights obligation to ensure that all students, with and without disabilities, are provided the tools they need to succeed, regardless of background," acting U.S. Secretary of Education John King, Jr. said. 

IDEA requires states to identify districts with “significant disproportionality” in special education. In a release Tuesday, the USDE said many districts that have “significant disproportionality” have been going unidentified.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the IDEA amendment "would, for the first time, require states to implement a standard approach to compare racial and ethnic groups, with reasonable thresholds for determining when disparities have become significant."

The USDE broke the data down state by state. To evaluate the states, the USDE broke down how many districts in each state had more than two "median absolute deviations" from the national average in various categories.

Overall, Missouri had 34.7 percent of districts with more than two deviations for at least one minority, in at least one disciplinary category.

Larger disparities existed in specific categories. 43 school districts in Missouri are above the national average for categorizing black students as having an ‘intellectual disability’. For white students, no district is above that same mark.

One Columbia parent, Kim Hall, said she has seen some disparity both from personal experience and the experience of people she knows.

“I know that makes parents very angry. And it all depends if it is elementary school kids, they don’t pay attention to that, but the parents do. But when you get up into middle school and high school, it does hurt some of the high school students thinking their IEPs are lower,” Hall said. IEPs are individualized education programs for students. 

She also said she thinks special education is important for some students.

“I feel that some of the special education kids come out real good,” Hall said.

Also, data showed 16 Missouri districts were two marks above the national average for giving a number of black students with disabilities out-of-school suspension or expulsion more than 10 days long. Again, for white students, no districts were above the mark.

KOMU 8 News reached out to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, as well as multiple special services coordinators at local school districts, but they were not able to make time to comment Tuesday.