This is part of an ongoing series, “Learning while Black: The fight for equity in San Francisco schools,” being broadcast on KALW’s Crosscurrents. African American students across the country are much more likely than any other student group to be placed in special education, and that’s true at San Francisco Unified too. The district’s troubled history has plenty to teach us about what is and isn’t working for Black students with special needs today.
Have you heard of the IEP? Well, it’s shorthand for special education. It is a program that is eating Black children, boys and girls at an alarming rate. Though it sounds benign and helpful, if too many of the children are Black, then there is a problem. It is a form of tracking; and any program that targets our children, puts them in a classroom where they are stigmatized by the larger student population (when they find out), is wrong.
Having a child with autism who receives special education in public school is a challenge. It can be more difficult for parents of low income, as is my circumstance. I’ve tried different routes to navigate a very difficult and, at times, confusing system. The myriad of acronyms and policy to be familiar with are overwhelming and it can feel as if you are alone in the process – your family against your school district.
For many in the African American community, especially those who are between poverty and middle class, autism is unfamiliar. We aren’t quite sure what kind of delay that means in our children. Does it mean they are dumb? Does it mean they won’t talk ever in life? Will they be sitting in the corner for decades, fascinated by the shiny object on the ceiling? Will they have friends of their own? Will they be independent?