Read This: “Special Education Too Often Leads to Jail”

The disgraceful truth of what we have allowed to happen to too many of our most vulnerable children.

An important and troubling piece in The Hechinger Report examines “The Pipeline to Prison: Special Education Too Often Leads to Jail for Thousands of American Children.”  Although reporters Jackie Mader and Sarah Butrymowicz focus on Mississippi, they also draw from national data to show the disgraceful truth of what we have allowed to happen to too many of our most vulnerable children.

Here’s a slice:

At least one in three of those arrested has a disability, ranging from emotional disability like bipolar disorder to learning disabilities like dyslexia, and some researchers estimate the figure may be as high as 70 percent. Across the country, students with emotional disabilities are three times more likely to be arrested before leaving high school than the general population.

The authors rightfully, and shamefully, trace the pipeline to underprepared and unprofessional teachers (apparently in title only) who do not know how to prepare for, respond to, or properly intervene with special needs students even early in school. While the article correctly notes that “for years Mississippi has had a shortage of highly qualified special education teachers,” what it does not mention is the few special education teachers that have been hired in recent years, especially to work with the older children, have all come through the state’s one summer, alternate route program.

What can and should teachers and parents do to break up this pipeline and to better serve our special needs children? How should we approach local and state policymakers? Where is the public outcry?

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