D65 report reveals overrepresentation, underperformance of black, Latinx students in special education programs


Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Anya Tanyavutti speaks at a District 65 board meeting. The Evanston/Skokie School District 65 voted unanimously to adopt next year’s budget.

Jason Beeferman, Reporter

A new Evanston/Skokie School District 65 report found that, black and Latinx students are overrepresented and significantly outperformed in special education programs by their white classmates.

The report, presented at Monday’s D65 Board of Education meeting, exposed “a history of hostility and neglect toward black children and families,” said board vice president Anya Tanyavutti.

Black students make up 22.6 percent of the district, but comprise 37 percent of disabled students in D65, according to the report. Meanwhile, white students make up 42.5 percent of the district, but only represent 26.75 percent of disabled students in the school district.

However, among students with Individual Education Plans, white students outperformed all minority students on the Measures of Academic Progress exam, according to the report.

Board members said their findings were indicative of a larger pattern of racial disparities they have become accustomed to seeing since focusing on equity within the last few years.

“We are no longer surprised because of the equity work that we do, but we can’t be any less devastated every time we see data like this,” Biz Lindsay-Ryan said. “When we look particularly at emotional disability, and the language piece for Latinx students, those feel very influenced to me by white supremacy, bias, racism and profiling.”

Executive Director for Special Services Romy DeCristofaro, who presented the report, said the overrepresentation of black and Latinx students may be due to teachers overidentifying disabilities. She said students of color may be assigned to special education programs when they would also succeed in general education.

Misplacement into special education programs can inhibit educational growth, according to DeCristofaro. The disproportionate number of black and Latinx students in special education programs can perpetuate racial profiling and prevents children from reaching their full potential, she said.

Cari Levin, executive director of Evanston CASE, a non-profit providing advocacy and support services for Evanston children with disabilities, said the report was “long overdue.”

Levin said the report should have included metrics beyond the Measures of Academic Progress exam scores, and the reports failed to present a plan to reform the special education system.

“As we’ve tried to zero in on racial and ethnic disparities we’ve heard from people in different pockets of our community (asking), ‘is everything about race?’” Tanyavutti said. “I would argue the data that we saw tonight indicates… that race continues to tell us a narrative that it is essential that we unpack the role of white supremacy in systems.”

Additional next steps outlined in the report mentioned expanding programming for the upcoming school year and increasing the capacity for online learning for special ed students, including more access to general education classes for all disabled students.

Sergio Hernandez, a board member and former ESL teacher, said many families don’t know about options like early intervention, which can help mitigate issues that might qualify students for special education programs before they enter elementary school.

“This affects all of us,” board president Suni Kartha said. “If we are going to effectuate the kind of structural change that this data is clearly proving to us that we need in our system, we are going to have to figure out a way to make sure we educate our community about what is going on.”

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