New Federal Report Explores Ways to Break the School To Prison Pipeline for Students with Disabilities

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Washington, DC – A report released today by the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency, examines the policies and practices that push the nation’s schoolchildren, especially those most at risk, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems, and asks and answers whether existing federal laws offer ways to disrupt this pattern, which has come to be known as the “School-to-Prison Pipeline.”

 In conjunction with its fall quarterly meeting, NCD convened a stakeholder forum in Atlanta in October 2014 to receive testimony on the role of special education in the School-to-Prison Pipeline. The findings and recommendations in the “Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline” report are based upon the culmination of that testimony, interviews with experts, and review of available research.

As a result of its research, NCD has concluded that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) can and should be an important part of the solution to the Pipeline crisis, and thus the report’s recommendations focus on ways to improve existing special education delivery and enforcement systems to better meet the needs of students with disabilities, and particularly of students with disabilities of color.

 “The prioritization of incarceration over education, if unchecked, jeopardizes decades of progress pursued in inclusive education policy,” said Rebecca Cokley, NCD’s Executive Director. “We must improve existing special education delivery and enforcement systems to better meet the needs of students with disabilities who are at risk for entering the pipeline, while also addressing both the conscious and unconscious racial biases that combine with disability discrimination to magnify the crisis.”

Key Findings

  • Persistent racial and ethnic disparities in identification, discipline, placement, and other key categories show IDEA implementation breakdowns disproportionately affect students of color with disabilities.
  • Although the overall inclusion of students with disabilities in the general education classroom has increased over the last decade, statistics shows that students of color with disabilities remain disproportionately segregated from their nondisabled peers.
  • Racial and ethnic disparities in suspensions and expulsions suggest the presence of unconscious or implicit biases which combine with discrimination on the basis of disability to contribute to the School-to-Prison Pipeline crisis.

Key Recommendations

  • The United States Department of Education should fund the development of systems for evaluating implicit racial and disability bias in schools where minorities are overrepresented in identification, discipline, or placement, and implement implicit bias training in enforcement agreements and compliance reviews.
  • Federal and state enforcement agencies should coordinate enforcement of disability rights laws and other civil rights laws such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and bolster enforcement efforts on the specific issue of disproportionality in school discipline and juvenile justice referrals, including initiating litigation.

To read a full copy of the “Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline for Students with Disabilities” report, visit NCD online at: /publications/2015/06182015/.

About the National Council on Disability (NCD): First established as a small advisory body within the Department of Education in 1978, NCD became an independent federal agency in 1984. In 1986, NCD recommended enactment of an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and drafted the first version of the bill which was introduced in the House and Senate in 1988. Since the ADA became law in 1990, NCD has continued to play a leading role in crafting policy solutions, and in advising the President, Congress and other federal agencies on disability policies, programs, and practices.