A recent article reveals a continued rage regarding the school racism label associated with special education identification of Black children. Many researchers and activist believe that the flawed identification process is detrimental to our present educational system. Schools can avoid the racism label by identifying cultural behaviors that are not associated with need for special education.

According to the article, Debate Over Whether Black Kids are Being Pushed Into Special Ed Heats Up, a new study indicates that Black children are not receiving the special education services needed for success. Even though Blacks children are 1.4 times more likely to become classified as in need of special education services when compared to White children, schools are less likely to recognize the need for additional services. The author continues to ascertain that racism, low socioeconomic status, and an education system geared to downplay the needs of Black children has lead to an underrepresentation in special education.

What is the representation of Black children in special education?

The overrepresentation of Black students in special education has been documented since 1997. In 1997, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) documented that even though Blacks represented only 16% of elementary and secondary students in the U.S., they constituted 21% of total enrollments in special education, and poor African-American children were 2.3 times more likely to be identified by their teacher as having mental retardation when compared to White students. This same pattern of Black student overrepresentation in special education continued.

According to the 2007 29th Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Black students ages 6 through 21 years of age were approximately 1.5 times more likely to receive special education services when compared to other ethnicities in the same age range. Additionally, Black students ages of 6 to 21 were 2.86 times more likely to receive special education services for mental retardation, and 2.28 times more likely to receive services for emotional disturbance when compared to ethnicities of the same age.

On of the major problem areas is the special education overrepresentation in the area of emotional disturbance. According to the IDEA the characteristics of emotionally disturbed children include:

  • An inability to exhibit appropriate behavior under ordinary circumstances
  • An inability to maintain relationships with peers or teachers
  • An inappropriate affect such as depression or anxiety
  • An inappropriate manifestation of physical symptoms or fears in response to school or personal difficulties

The above mentioned characteristics must be manifested over an extended time period and have a negative effect on school performance.

Why would Black students become referred for special education services due to their inability to maintain relationships with teachers?

Black students have difficulty accepting teachers as the primary source of knowledge due to becoming accustomed to sharing information on an equal basis with adults rather than the adult teaching them. Teachers treat Black high school students as though they are incapable decision makers that require their permission to do everything even though the student has had experience caring for younger brothers and sisters, teaching them safety and personal hygiene skills, and taking care of the home. Black students withdraw from the instructional process or become discontented with whatever the teacher does when the teacher hinders student spontaneity and enthusiasm and punishes the student by requiring the student to raise his or her hand in order to be recognized.

Why would Black students become referred for special education services due depression or anxiety?

Racism can make any person exhibit characteristics associate with depression or anxiety. When incorporating students into a marginalized society by slavery, conquest, and colonization, students believe school is detrimental to their identity. Blacks are not willing to perform well in school due to difficulty with crossing cultural lines. Blacks have learned that since slavery that the best way to get ahead is not through merit and talent but through White patronage.

Americans of color adapt to a society that does not value their ethnicity, history, heritage, or language by establishing societal survival strategies. Black parents prepare their children to live in a dual cultural world that involves helping them to develop skills for adult roles such as wage earners and parenthood in addition to negotiating a dominant society that has different cultural values and judges’ people by their skin color or ethnic background. Blacks who live in an urban society and a society that dislikes them for the color of their skin ensure they do not become victims by approaching people with caution, wariness, and a sense of distrust.

Distrust between schools and Blacks results from hostile treatment of Blacks and discrimination in schools. Employment discrimination is the primary source of Black student opposition to schooling. Blacks believe schools ineffectively prepare Black children with the same skills that enable White middle-class persons to attain good jobs and wages. Blacks discourage school success as a cultural goal and respond by developing survival strategies that contribute to school failure as well as conflict with the schools.

Schools can offset many of the special education characteristics associated with emotionally disturbance by promoting positive racial teacher student classroom relationships (Properateasclaships) and utilizing the Raccelerate Racism Formula.

Related Articles

Should more minority kids be in special ed?

The Debate Over Minority Representation in Special Education

Are There Racial Imbalances In Special Education?

Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.


PO Box 1668 Blackwood, NJ 08012


Get Email Updates

Author of Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships and Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships: Methodology

doctor_derrick1          Racism Book

“The model that you use to analyze teacher-student relationships is a good one for most school districts”.

~ Joe Vas ~ Perth Amboy Mayor

“Dr. Campbell’s Cultural Relationship Training Program is comprehensive, informative, and should be required training for all schools”

~ Darrell Pope ~ Hutchinson Kansas NAACP President

Profile Picture 250 by 250

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *