SPECIAL EDUCATION: Connecticut Minorities Labeled Disabled at Slightly Higher Rate Than Whites

By Sullo, Michelle Tuccitto | New Haven Register (New Haven, CT), November 25, 2013 | Go to article overview

SPECIAL EDUCATION: Connecticut Minorities Labeled Disabled at Slightly Higher Rate Than Whites


Sullo, Michelle Tuccitto, New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)


Black and Hispanic students are identified as having a disability at a slightly higher rate than their white peers in Connecticut's public schools.

"It has long been a fact that black males in particular are placed in special education categories," said Benjamin Foster, education committee chairman for the Connecticut State Conference of NAACP branches. "This is an ongoing challenge for the (NAACP) and the educational system."

John Lugo, an organizer for Unidad Latina en Accion, said many Hispanic youths end up in special education because their native language is Spanish, and it takes time to adapt to classes taught in English.

"I heard about this issue 20 years ago, and it is still the same," Lugo said. "I don't think it is getting better."

While the state's school population is about 61 percent white, about 58.3 percent of those identified as having a disability are Caucasian.

About 19.5 percent of the state's students are Hispanic, but Hispanics make up 21.7 percent of students labeled as disabled.

While 13 percent of the student population is black, African Americans make up 16.3 percent of students identified as disabled.

Asian students make up 4.4 percent of the overall population, but only 1.9 percent of students classified as disabled are Asian, according to data on the state Department of Education's website.

The state's most recent published information on the racial breakdown of those identified as having a disability is from the 2010-11 school year, and includes children from kindergarten through grade 12. The school population figures are for 2011, also from data on the department's website.

Department spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly said it monitors school districts for any disproportionate racial or ethnic special education identification.

Ideally, the rate of disability identification for a racial or ethnic group would be close to the overall student population for that group. If a school district is determined to have data of concern, it is flagged and the state approaches the district to make sure identifications are appropriate.

According to the state Bureau of Special Education's Annual Performance Report for 2011-12, published early this year, no state school districts had over-representation in special education due to students being inappropriately identified as disabled. While there were some districts which seemed to have disproportionate representation in specific disability categories, the state determined none were due to inappropriate identification, the report shows.

In the 2006-07 school year, no districts had over-representation in racial or ethnic groups in special education due to inappropriate identification, according to the state.

However, that year, four districts had over-representation in specific disability categories due to inappropriate identification, according to the state.

Blacks were overrepresented in the intellectual disability, emotional disturbance, learning disability, and speech or language impairment categories. For Hispanics, it was speech and language impairment.

The state took steps such as focused monitoring visits, action plans, updating guidelines for identification, and training.

In the 2010-11 school year, there were 63,486 students in Connecticut identified as having a disability, according to the department. This includes learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, emotional disturbance, speech or language impairment, other health impairment, autism, or another disability.

The most common category for both black and Hispanic students was a learning disability or a speech and language impairment.

For whites, the most common disability category was learning disability, followed by the "other health impairment" category, then speech and language impairment.

"In the past, (minority) students were labeled when they didn't have a disability, but there have been improvements on that, and we are hopeful," Foster said. …

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