Rochester schools renew focus on special-education issue

Jul 28, 2011 by

For years, the City School District has been placing a disproportionate number of minority students into special education programs, prompting criticism that it unnecessarily labels black and Hispanic children and landing it under a state mandate to fix the problem.

Not only are minority students — particularly young black men — overrepresented in programs for students with disabilities, they also tend to be suspended at higher rates.

Now city school leaders want to correct that problem with a new initiative that aims to cut the number of minority students placed in special education programs who do not belong in them. The effort also strives to reduce the number of suspensions.

The school district has been working with researchers from New York University to study the problem and develop a plan to correct it. Those researchers spent the past school year studying 10 Rochester schools to identify the reasons for both the over-identification and the high number of suspensions.

They found that in many cases, school staff did not efficiently communicate with parents about the needs of their children. In others, teachers and school staff did not have a good understanding of their students’ varying cultural backgrounds, something that will affect how they behave in the classroom and interact with others. As a result, some students were unnecessarily disciplined.

“We need to know more about the children we teach,” said Adeyemi Stembridge, one of the researchers. “It’s critically important that we seek to know more about the experiences of the people we wish to serve.”

The City School District’s problem with over-identifying minority students for special education dates back decades. In 1981, parents and advocates filed a class action lawsuit alleging that the school district failed to properly evaluate students for special education, resulting in students who could have succeeded in regular classrooms being labeled and placed in programs for students with disabilities. They also said that parents were excluded from decisions affecting their children. The lawsuit resulted in a series of court orders that governed the city’s special education system from 1983 to 2002.

via Rochester schools renew focus on special-education issue | Democrat and Chronicle |

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