Literacies Circle: Special Education

After sharing the last post on building readers’ identities of safety, joy, happiness, and curiosity, a few people commented along the lines of things being the…

only way low readers can get help is by being identified as having a disability in order to qualify for special education or special accommodations.”

This kind of statement, made by caring and concerned educators and parents, unfortunately points to the structures and systems that needs to categorize children by their labels in order for them to receive a full education.

Most children identified as having a “disability” are categorized in the area of learning disabilities, cognitive impairment, or speech and language impairments—areas that provide a lot of room for definitions. And these are areas that can show significant disproportionality among children of color. Fewer children have medically-identifiable disabilities such as a hearing loss, vision impairment, or a physical impairment—areas that show little disproportionality.

Special education, to some educational scholars, have become a socially acceptable covert form of segregation. 

I have witnessed middle or high school students become astonished to find out that they are somehow “disabled.” They have always known they were taking special classes or in special groups for their weak areas in reading and writing. But “disability” was too strong of a condition for them.

In addition to going through the referral, multi-disciplinary evaluations, and individualized education planning process, restorative practices can bring out the hard conversations about how identification for a disability in order to qualify for special education or accommodations is both beneficial and detrimental.   

How do we separate a medical diagnosis from social interpretations of that diagnosis? For example, medically, I am deaf and need accommodations such as live captioning for meetings, but socially, I need to be seen as just deaf, not as incapable of thought, or in other words, dumb.

How do we merge medical diagnosis and social interpretations? For example, I am really deaf and despite that I can lipread and my accent, I am not someone that needs to go back to wherever I came from.  

What does your school look like? What is the percentage of disabilities in your school? Some schools have just a few percent but others have upwards of 25 or 30 percent. What are the individual categories? And what are the racial make-ups in these categories?

Where is the line between overt special education and covert segregation?

How do we improve general education so that all are fully included?

Too many children of color are disproportionally disciplined in schools. When the discipline becomes chronic, some may get referred for special education. How do we question our disciplinary decisions, in-school policing, and the school-to-prison pipeline?

Accommodations are usually hard fought for, such as live captioning or ASL interpreter, wheelchair accessibility, large-print texts, or assistive technology devices. How do we make sure we are accommodating those with disabilities? And to do so without pity or patronization? How do we help people see that accommodations not as extra privileges, but as leveling the playing field?

As we slowly return to hybrid and face-to-face learning, how do we address the collective trauma of the pandemic rather than pinpoint to certain groups of students as having “learning loss?” 

And how do we see all readers as readers and writers as writers?

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