A couple of weeks ago, I found out that one of my refugee kiddos was on an IEP, and I was angry!
Let me back up a bit...this student went to school in my state for kindergarten, then moved out of state for 1st grade. He has moved back now for 2nd grade, and brought an IEP with him. With a diagnosis of a learning disability. Maybe it's just me, but 1st grade is pretty early to be labeled with a learning disability, especially for an Emerging Bilingual (English Language Learner) who did not have many opportunities to learn in any kind of formal setting before kindergarten.
Once I calmed down a little bit, I tried to put my finger on what was bugging me so much. A friend asked me, "What does this mean for him?" In truth, it means that he will probably get more help and more interventions. And have a label. It's really not the worst thing in the world.
But I think my anger was a reflection of a greater worry about the role of the education system in perpetuating stereotypes or injustices in our current society. Why is this student automatically labeled as having a disability? Reading his current IEP, have we truly explored whether his slow progress in reading is a result of a disability or the fact that he is learning English or that he has moved around quite a bit and that has disrupted his education? Does he truly have a learning disability, or is it just the easiest and most convenient thing to do to put him on an IEP?
And lest you think I am paranoid, we have statistics to back it up. Do you know that, in my state a couple of years ago (when I could find the data), students who are Black are 2.18 times more likely to be identified with an intellectual disability compared to their non-Black peers? And 2.02 time more likely to be removed from the classroom for discipline issues? That's a problem, friends. You can view these statistics and more on this sheet.
I talked to my student's current special education teacher, and she said that the team would do a full review, since our state qualifies students differently than the other state does. I shared my concerns, and tried to share that if he truly has a disability, that is fine...I never want to be one of those people who is like, "Not my kid!" I just want to make sure we are really considering all of the factors and not jumping to conclusions because he is a student of color who is behind. I felt much better after talking, and feel confident that his school will take an honest look at his strengths and challenges and data to determine what the most appropriate course of action is.
For my part, I know I will continue to speak up and advocate in little and big ways as we wrestle with everything going on in our society right now. Sometimes it is showing up at a public protest, but sometimes, it's speaking to a teacher about one student's IEP.