Special-Ed Racial Imbalance Spurs Sanctions
Blacks make up one-fifth of the student population in both Montgomery and Anne Arundel county public schools. But they make up two-fifths of the group labeled mentally retarded.
The two Maryland school systems are among five that face state sanctions because they steer too many struggling black students into special education with problems that, in a number of cases, could be addressed in a regular classroom, according to federal education officials. Starting this summer, the systems must spend a combined $8 million a year on efforts to reduce the number of black students in special-ed.
Young black students with academic or behavioral problems tend to wind up in special education, educators say, based on a teacher's impulse to place such children where they will get the most help. Special-ed classes are staffed at a far lower student-to-teacher ratio than regular classes. But some black parents and others have accused school systems across the country of using special education, a federally subsidized program tailored for children with documented disabilities, as a dumping ground for disruptive black children. The Education Department found that, in 2003, although about 15 percent of all students ages 6 to 21 were black, they made up 20 percent of all special-education students and 34 percent of those labeled mentally retarded in that age range.