Skip to main content

Zoom Text:

This remains an issue in the 21st Century.

In 2002, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights echoed the issues of the 1960s:

Disproportionate Classification of Minority Students in Special Education

The IDEA amendments of 1997 required that states report the number of students with disabilities served by race/ethnicity. Recent research commissioned by the Harvard University Civil Rights Project and another study by the National Academy of Sciences determined that students of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds are more likely to be placed in special education classes than their white peers. National statistics compiled by the Department of Education outline the disparities. For the 2001–2002 school year:

  • Black (non-Hispanic) students account for 14.8 percent of the general population of students, but make up nearly 20 percent of the special education population.
  • Black students' representation in the developmental disabilities category is more than twice their national population estimates, and their representation in the developmental delay and emotional disturbance categories is nearly two-thirds higher.
  • Asian American/Pacific Islanders represent 3.8 percent of the general student population, but make up less than 2 percent of the population receiving special education services.
  • American Indian students are also slightly overrepresented in special education in almost every disability category.

The Harvard Civil Rights Project found that in 1997 African American children were almost three times more likely to be labeled "mentally retarded". They also found that students with disabilities in urban areas, in which minority students predominate, are more likely to be placed in segregated settings and less likely to have access to challenging curricula.

man and a child making a sandwich
Photo courtesy William Bronston, M.D.
children working with wood
Photo courtesy William Bronston, M.D