BPS special education program putting black and Latino boys at educational risk


“It’s going to take time, but we need to act urgently wherever we can on the suggestions and recommendations in the report.”

Boston Public Schools superintendent Mary Skipper speaking on the podium with a sculpture of Abraham Lincoln to her right. A new report from Boston Public School’s Special Education Program says students of color are disproportionately referred to the program. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Boston public schools over-refer to special education programs in general, but boys and black and Latino students learning English are disproportionately referred to the program, according to a Council of the Great City Schools review.

The 129-page review of BPS’s special education program, called “sobering” by Superintendent Mary Skipper, includes a long list of concerns about the program.

“Long-standing assumptions/biases triggering disproportionately high special education eligibility rates, especially for male students of color and English (EL) learners,” read a line on the review’s topics. .

According to the report, black and Latino boys make up 53% of students with disabilities despite making up only 35% of all BPS students. Students learning English represent 30% of the student body but 47% of students identified as having a hearing impairment, 46% of students with a communication disorder and 55% of students with multiple disabilities.

School board member Michael O’Neill told WBUR the review was “a wake-up call for us on a critical issue.”

BPS’s “substantially separated placement rate,” or the rate of students who are sent out of their home district because of a disability, is more than double the national average of 13% to 29%. The review also noted that a small number of schools are responsible for helping students with Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs.

The review included a list of recommendations for the school district to begin to address these gaps in its programming.

This list includes: addressing the overall high rate of disability among students in the district, providing support before referring the student to the special education program, hiring experts, ensuring that students with disabilities are not not sent to a smaller proportion of schools, and other suggestions.

“It will take time, but we must act with urgency wherever we can on the suggestions and recommendations in the report. It needs to be done because our students can no longer wait for it not to be done,” Skipper said according to WBUR.

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