The 10,000-student Schenectady, N.Y., school district has agreed to take steps to address the overrepresentation of black and Latino students in special education, after a U.S. Department of Education review of its referral practices.
The department review noted that during the 2012-13 school year, black students represented 49 percent of students classified as emotionally disturbed, even though they were only 35 percent of the overall student population. Latino students represented 23 percent of students classified as learning disabled, while accounting for for 16 percent of the overall student population.
The department’s office for civil rights found that there was “no standardized criteria for referring a student to the school building-level teams responsible for implementing the district’s regular education intervention process. Instead, the approach used by teachers to refer students differed from school to school, and from classroom to classroom,” said a statement from the department.
The department identified several occasions where teachers of racially diverse classrooms referred black or Latino students for special education identification, while not doing the same for white students engaged in similar actions. For example, one black student was referred for special education evaluation after a minor altercation for which he was suspended for five days. The teacher did not refer a white student who had engaged in similar offenses on six separate occasions, including intimidating, harassing, menacing, and bullying; two separate minor altercations; obscene language; and disruptive behavior.
The department also released a copy of the resolution letter, which goes into detail on the department’s findings, and a description of the agreement, which explains what is expected of the Schenectady district.
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.