By Rosa Conrad

As I continue to address the concerns with zero tolerance policies and new disciplinary policies being implemented, a key issue is the students who are being affected. The Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) indicated that over 3 million students have been suspended from school. The Department of Education released from a summer conference maps under “Rethink Discipline” showing the practice of school suspension across the United States that included its extensive and frequent enforcement on students with disabilities. Schools need to focus on a different approach to discipline practices. This is especially true for students who are identified as “students with disabilities.”

Tara Brown conducted research at Achieve, a private K-12 special education alternative school in the District of Columbia, and noted that students attending this school were “all Black and Latina/o, mostly low income, and receiving special education services, and had at least one documented disability (emotional, behavioral, learning, language, or speech).”

Special education lacks one clear, specific definition. The following are some of the ways that special education is defined.

1) Education of physically or mentally handicapped children whose needs cannot be met in an ordinary classroom.

2) Instruction that is specially designed to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability. This means education that is individually developed to address a specific child’s needs that result from his or her disability. Since each child is unique, it is difficult to give an overall example of special education. It is individualized for each child…There may be students whose special education focuses primarily on speech and language development, cognitive development, or needs related to a physical or learning disability. 

3) Classes for children who have special needs because of physical or learning problems. 

imagesBrown conducted interviews with students who had been in private and public schools, and had experienced some behavioral issues. She did not have access to the students’ confidential personal documents. Brown also points out that 1/3rd of students came from charter or private schools, and “may have had discipline policies that differed from mainstream District of Columbia Public Schools. Students ranged from being diagnosed with emotional/behavioral disability (EBD), to attention hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), to being involved in physical fights.

In the stories that were presented, some of these students didn’t have learning disabilities as defined above. Rather, they had emotional problems that were not being addressed, 7 out of the 24 students chose to attend Achieve due to negative treatment from teachers and other students. Parents worked to have their children placed in Achieve.

Brown concluded with the following:

The potential of IDEA [Disabilities Education Act to keep young people connected to school cannot be overstated, particularly in the context of soaring drop-out rates in high- poverty, high-minority schools and among students placed in special education. DCPS [District of Columbia Public School] may be an atypical case due to the district’s lack of special education capacity. Furthermore, local discipline policy appeared particularly harsh and rigid at the time that the participants in the present study were removed from school.

16269657529_41520b5c79_bThis reinforces the need to not only address discipline policies but to include how they are affecting students with special needs, as well as students who are being labeled as special needs yet perhaps instead experience emotional and behavioral issues.


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