Black Boys in Crisis: Students with Disabilities

In this series, appropriately titled “Black Boys in Crisis,” I highlight the problems facing black boys in education today, as well as provide clear steps that will lead us out of the crisis.

Increasingly, educators are learning how to recognize the signs of textbook learning disabilities like ADHD or dyslexia. But what about the indirect impact that factors like poverty, abuse, neglect, or simply living in the wrong neighborhood have on a student’s ability to learn? Why aren’t we finding ways to identify the known risk factors for academic impairment and intervening earlier?

Black boys with disabilities are the most often suspended and expelled demographic of all. A study released by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project found that black males with a disability had a 36 percent chance of suspension, and that, in general, students with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended as students without disabilities. Most often these students were suspended for minor infractions, like misbehaving in class or acting out in other ways.

Leroy Moore, Jr., an activist who is pushing back against the common practice of removal from schools of minority children for behavioral issues, says that instead of police intervention, teachers simply need better training in handling behavioral issues. In a Q&A with the Huffington Post, Moore said: “Too often, teachers and school administrators are willing to call the police to respond to behavioral issues that they should be trained to respond to without the use of law enforcement . . . This training should be reinforced with a policy that directly outlines responses to certain behaviors and implements clear steps that must be taken before law enforcement can be called in.”

Moore contends that teachers are simply ill-equipped to handle the realistic behavioral issues that stem from disabilities and says that, with better training, educators could diffuse situations in classrooms without outside help. In 1997 the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was amended to protect children with disabilities from being punished for acting in ways that aligned with their diagnosed disability. For example, zero-tolerance policies for behavior should not apply to students whose diagnosis includes typical behavioral problems that would otherwise be grounds for removal. Moore contends that many districts and individuals are simply ignoring this specification, and parents are not armed with the knowledge to fight back.

How can we hold school districts accountable for illegally disciplining students whose rule infraction was a manifestation of their disability? By simply confronting them with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.


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