Hispanic Students at Risk: Do We Abdicate or Advocate?

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Hispanic Students at Risk: Do We Abdicate or Advocate?

ABSTRACT: With the rapid growth of Hispanic student populations in the United Stages comes a corresponding increase in the number of students who have limited English proficiency as well as disabilities. Specific educational interventions, such as programs of English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) and bilingual instruction, are needed to enable these students to enter the mainstream. The chief obstacles to bilingual special education are the paucity of personnel training programs that include cross-cultural communication, and a lack of awareness of the need for these services. Transdisciplinary teaming is a cost-effective, appropriate approach to providing the services which both handicapped and at risk language minority students require. It is our expectation that every person in America be educated to his or her fullest potential, that will result only when all students stay in school, and this year's first graders go on to graduate in the year 2000.

Lauro F. Cavasos

U.S. Secretary of Education

January 1989 Will at-risk Hispanic students and those with disabilities be among America's appropriately educated population in the year 2000? Is this country moving toward advocating for effective education for Hispanic students by committing resources to meeting the needs of this special population? Or is the United States abdicating by resigning to a slowly changing system plagued with prejudices, vague fears, and misunderstanding?

The time has come to answer these questions. The Hispanic student population entering public schools is rapidly growing, and with that growth come increasing numbers of students with disabilities. Serving at-risk Hispanic students and their families has become one of the most critical concerns for many public schools across this country. Although demographic data clearly indicate that the population of Hispanic students in this country is on the rise, professionals are only now realizing the complex ramifications these data will have on schools serving Hispanic students with disabilities. Revitalization and reform is needed now in special education to meet the complex needs of Hispanic students and their families.

The common issues of nonbiased assessment, second-language acquisition, and bilingual education continue to be critical in understanding the needs of Hispanic students. Educating Hispanic students has become a complex task not only requiring sensitivity to linguistic and cultural differences but also requiring an understanding of early intervention, transdisciplinary teaming, and family involvement. When Hispanic students are at risk or have disabilities, their educational needs become much more complex. A spirit of advocacy must be awakened within special education--and throughout the educational process--to adequately prepare the United States for the surge of Hispanic students with disabilities entering our schools every year. This advocacy effort can serve to assist not only Hispanic students, but all linguistically and culturally diverse students with special needs.

To better understand the present trends in special education as they relate to Hispanic students, one must understand the demographics of the population, the definitions of the terms most commonly used, and the evolution of public policy over recent decades.

DEMOGRAPHICS AND DEFINITIONS

The term Hispanic requires definition and understanding. Literally, it refers to persons from Spain or Spanish-speaking Latin America. However, the term is not easily understood. Persons born in the United States of families of Hispanic heritage are also referred to as Hispanic, whether or not they speak Spanish. Some school systems differentiate students as Hispanic or non-Hispanic by the presence of a Hispanic surname. The use of family names as defining characteristic excludes a large number of students who speak Spanish and includes a large group whose only connection with Spain or Latin America is their last name. …