Holly Prestidge, Richmond Times-Dispatch, June 15, 2006
Are Virginia schools’ special-education classes becoming warehouses for struggling minority students who don’t belong there?
According to the Virginia Department of Education, more than two-thirds of Virginia’s school divisions — including several counties around Richmond — have a disproportionately high number of minority students in certain areas of special education.
The department says about 90 of the state’s 132 school divisions have much higher numbers of minorities in individual disability categories than state expectations for those groups.
Some school divisions have a disproportionately high number of minorities in special education as a whole compared with their general student population.
Others report black students spending more time in special-education classes than white students.
Paul Raskopf, director of financial and data services for the Virginia Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Student Services, said special education has evolved into an area where students are often sent when they’re struggling because their school doesn’t have alternative programs to help them.
Raskopf said the big question that disproportionality raises is whether school officials are appropriately identifying students for special — education services.
Neither Richmond nor Petersburg were cited for disproportionality since the majority of the students in those school divisions are minorities.
“We have so many minority students, so for us minority means something else,” said Treeda Smith, public information officer for Richmond Public Schools.
The state report also cited some school divisions for the amount of time blacks spend in special-education classes compared to white students. Raskopf said the department’s report will soon be expanded to include student expulsions and suspensions.
Under a new federal law, Raskopf said, school divisions will have to begin analyzing whether their disproportionality is a result of inappropriate identification. To help them do that, he said, the Virginia Department of Education will provide guidance in determining inappropriate identification.