In one of my science classes, there was a student named Marie (not her real name). She had great difficulty comprehending very simple concepts. Repeating the simplest concepts, a hundred different ways, did not help her comprehend them. Everyone assumed, therefore, that she was severely disabled. No one was certain that she was disabled; but it was obvious that something was severely wrong with her comprehension. For Marie and others like her, special education is a noble and beneficial idea. When it works, it provides disabled students with the special learning environments and resources they need without cramping the learning styles of their peers. When schools place truly disabled students in special education, they are helping those students obtain a FAPE. That we should applaud.
On the other hand, it is appalling and a grave justice when schools place non-disabled African American students in special education merely on the basis of race. We should condemn and repudiate this discriminatory practice soundly given the gravity of this injustice on African Americans, their families and futures. The result of such disproportionate placement is a gross overrepresentation of black students, especially black males, in special education and a gross underrepresentation of black students, especially black males, in gifted education.
How bad is the problem? It is very bad according to recent reports released by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the US Department of Education. During the 2011-2012 school year, OCR reports that black students comprised only 14.4% of the total student population, but 19% of the 6,086,426 students who were served under IDEA. Regarding black males in particular, they represented 12.8% of the 4,057,058 males students served under IDEA. Incidentally, the percentage of blacks in special education in many confederate states greatly exceeded the national average of 14.4%. For example, blacks comprise 40% of the special education population in Alabama, 39.4% in Georgia, 50% in Louisiana, 52.4% in Mississippi, 43% in South Carolina. And 45.2% in Maryland. Given the legacy of white supremacy in southern states, this fact is unsurprising.
In another revealing report, the U.S. Department of Education stated that black students were overrepresented in all thirteen disability categories. The population of blacks in two of those categories (mental retardation and developmentally delayed) represented twice their proportion of the school population. What is more, when black students are placed in special education, they are more likely than white students to be put in highly restrictive environments where little real education takes place. Lastly, the report showed that Black students 6 through 21 years of age were 1.4 times more likely of receiving special education services as all other racial/ethnic groups combined.
Why Are Black Males Placed Disproportionately in Special Education?
Professors Beth Harry, Ph.D., and the late Janette Klingner in their book, Why Are So Many Minority Students in Special Education, 2nd Edition, offer the following insight for the overrepresentation of black students in special education:
Three years of intensive qualitative study of the placement process in 12 elementary schools in a large, multicultural, urban school district point to problems at both systemic and individual levels, to the need for refinement of procedures, and to problematic human factors in decision-making. The issue of overrepresentation is very challenging because of its complexity. In all cases, we noted several potential explanations for special education placement that went well beyond the notion of intrinsic deficits or disabilities in children. FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Our study demonstrated the processes by which 12 schools in this multicultural, multilingual school district contributed to the district’s pattern of overrepresentation of Black students in all three high-incidence categories and, to some extent, of Hispanics in the LD category. In the light of the model we adapted from Heller and colleagues (1982), we conclude that disproportionality in this school district is indeed a problem because of the numerous inequitable factors influencing all phases of the placement process. These inequities related to the three main phases of the process: children’s opportunity to learn prior to referral, the decisionmaking processes that led to special education placement, and the quality of the special education experience itself. Specifically, our main concerns were poor teacher quality; large class size; detrimental administrative policies regarding curriculum, instruction, and discipline; subjectivity in psychological assessment practices; pressure for special education placement because of high-stakes testing and the state’s grading plan; arbitrary application of eligibility criteria; tardiness in placement processes; and restrictive or ineffective special education programs. We refer to these negative impacts as inequities not only because they contributed to inappropriate or unnecessary special education placements, but also because there was a clear pattern of their being more in evidence in schools serving low-income, predominantly Black students. This pattern of inequity constitutes a form of institutional bias, wherein schooling reinforces rather than mitigates the effects of poverty and racism.
Apologies for such a long quote but it is so insightful and instructional that the length is justified. That said, black parents have known for decades that our children are not mentally retarded or intellectual disabled disproportionately. We understand that many of their teachers are white females who have had no contact or very limited contact with blacks and black culture and that some white teachers are racists who believe that blacks are mentally deficient or inferior. The data mentioned in this chapter strongly suggests that merely being black males in public schools puts our them gravely at risk of being placed in special education without justification. That is to say, public schools display great hostility toward black boys, and they persistently and cleverly invent new ways to remove them from the classroom.
Why to Keep Your Son Out of Special Education if He Is Not Disabled
There are many reasons why you should keep your son out of special education if he does not need it. I want to mention three in particular: Your son may carry a lasting stigma from receiving special education that could be injurious to his reputation and long-term educational and social prospects. What is more, he may suffer irreversible intellectual damage from being in special education, since many teachers continue to expect very little from disabled students. And once your son has been placed in special education, it can be difficult to transfer him out, even if subsequent evaluations show that he does not require it.
 Bitterman, A., Gray, L., and Goldring, R. (2013). Characteristics of Public and Private Elementary and Secondary Schools in the United States: Results from the 2011-12 School and Staffing Survey (NCES 2013–312). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved [date] from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch.
 U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, Civil Rights Data Collection, 2011-12
 (Gentry 2009)
 U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Office of Special Education Programs, 36th Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 2014, Washington, D.C. 2014
 (Harry and Klingner 2014)