Dept. Of Education Says Disabled Black Students’ Rights Were Systematically Violated

Colorado's Department of Education says disabled black students were wrongfully placed into effective needs centers, where their academic journey was further disrupted.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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Black students are reported to suffer vast disparities in education. But disabled black students are believed to fare the worse. So as Colorado’s Department of Education claims that this group of students’ rights was systemically violated, the news is especially worrisome for many advocacy groups, activists, and parents across the nation.

The Colorado Department of Education state complaint officer released a report citing widespread issues affecting disabled black students. At the heart of the problem is the state’s largest school district, Denver Public Schools. According to the report, Black boys have been sent to specialized programs without thorough evaluation, which many fear is due to racial bias.

Once in these separate classrooms, which the district calls effective needs centers, the district failed to properly monitor the disabled black students’ progress. These classrooms served students with emotional disabilities. Black boys made up the majority of students sent to them.

Altogether, Denver public schools had 33 campuses that served students in these classrooms. Effective needs centers taught students in elementary, middle school, and high school. At least 99 students in these programs were investigated in the extensive report.

Disabled black male students were more than four times as likely as others to be placed in these centers. One-third of the classroom demographic was compromised of black boys. The report found that the classrooms had extremely high staff turnover rates and insufficient supplies as well. 

Being called extensive  “institutional racism”, five examples of systemic violation were cited. In one instance, a disabled black student was sent with a focus on behavioral concerns, despite his low scores on testing. After reviewing the district’s documentation on his case, it was found that they failed to properly evaluate him before making an assessment and sending him into the program.

What’s more, the district failed to give families prior written notice before sending alleged disabled black students into the centers. In another finding, multiple teachers did not have proper licenses and certifications. Violations likewise cited The Individuals with Disabilities Act, which requires students to be educated in their “least restrictive environment,” which the complaint says the district failed to do.

Violations against disabled black students have been reported in Denver schools for years. Previously, there was a plan in place to abolish the effect needs centers, known as Project DISRUPT. But when new leadership took over, the plan was scrapped for various reasons.

Now that the violations against disabled black students in Denver schools are widely reported, the Department of Education announced plans for remediation. All special education staff is ordered to complete training on how to properly conduct evaluations. The hope is that this will allow staffers to better place students according to their needs, without creating any racial bias towards disabled black students.

disabled black students

The racial gap in education is something many school officials fear needs to be systemically addressed, much like what is being done in Colorado. Black students have long performed lowers than their white peers, and the pandemic only worsened that gap. But now that Denver Public schools are tasked with correcting widespread issues said to harm disabled black students, the question on everyone’s mind is whether or not the changes will make a difference.