We must prioritize protecting Black and brown students in schools. Local and federal actions are needed to ensure that equity isn’t just being discussed but being implemented in practice and policies.
The Biden Administration also has a role, through the Department of Education, in protecting Black and brown students who are exceptional learners with rights and dignity.
This is just a tip of the iceberg of what should be done considering that Black and brown students are disportionately serviced and represented in special education programs, especially Black boys, who are largely misdiagnosed.
Whether students are learning online or in-person, their rights and dignity must be protected at all times. As a special education teacher, it was my duty to advocate for students in my city and state.
We must speak for those whose voices are not at the table yet who are being impacted the hardest by failing schools. This begins with a commitment to include exceptional learners and their parents in conversations on equity and improving educational offerings and outcomes.
Tell the Biden Administration to take action to protect students with disabilities
IDEA, the federal law protecting students with disabilities, was passed in 1990, but it is still woefully underfunded. Resources aren’t the only problem: Racial equity and parent power must be prioritized.
Special education must be viewed through a racial equity lens, given longstanding disparities in outcomes for Black and brown students who have IEPs and concerns about Black and brown students experiencing under identification in some schools and over identification in other schools.
Special Education Teachers play a major role in advocacy for exceptional learners
Exceptional learners are facing the hardest decisions of their lives right now as children. We have young EdLanta Student Coalition leaders who are exceptional learners, and they are fearful of returning to school for face to face learning.
One ESC member said that she feels safer at home learning at her NW Atlanta school.
“People say it’s a good school, but my friends are teased because they are too dark or they’re ‘ghetto’ for having braids and beads. The teachers say they don’t see it but I believe they see it.”
We forget that many exceptional learners are teased because of their defined disability. Exceptional learners who are gifted and talented are bullied for being nerds or unique. Exceptional learners who have physical disabilities are separated and classified as different. Exceptional learners, who have behavior and emotional disorders are called bad.
Even during the pandemic and digital learning, practices of many public schools weren’t protecting Black and brown exceptional learners. For example, many parents of children with exceptionalities didn’t receive adequate resources during the onset of COVID-19 and many still aren’t.
We need action from the Department of Education to improve accountability because states need additional federal guidance in implementing IDEA, especially with regard to improving accessibility for distance learning. Students and parents need more access to resources and governance regarding the decisions made on the implementation of programs, resources, and budgets.
Parent power can be enhanced by increasing family-centered practices and expanding support for the Parent Training Information Centers to reach all families; that is part of the IDEA mandate. Additionally, many of our exceptional learners have severe health conditions. Our schools need better infrastructure to protect them from COVID-19 and other pre-existing conditions.
One major area of needed improvement is lead water found in the pipes of schools. We can’t just simply protect Black and brown exceptional learners’ academic resources, but we can protect their health and wellness in schools.
Take action to protect Black and brown exceptional learners with severe health conditions
Jason has worked in education for over 15 years as a teacher, blogger and community advocate. He speaks and writes primarily about the need to improve education for Black boys, particularly increasing the number of Black male educators in schools. In addition to blogging here at EdLanta, Jason is also a featured writer at Education Post.