Special Education and DC Public Schools

DC has a long history of troubled and inequitable special education services. Our October 10 show, on the state of special education in DC’s publicly funded schools, featured two local experts:

–Chioma Oruh, DCPS parent and parent advocate with Advocates for Justice and Education, a DC nonprofit helping families with special needs children receive appropriate education services.

–Latisha Chisholm, social worker and manager of the Connected Schools initiative at DCPS’s Anacostia high school.

show starts at 4:45 mark on this recording —

In DC, 16% of public education students have disabilities, slightly higher than US average, which is 13%. Yet, test scores for DC’s students with disabilities are very low (7.9% proficient in English language arts and 9% proficient in math, both well below city averages). And graduation rates for special education students in DC are relatively low as well.

In the show, we discussed the June 2019 annual letter from the Department of Education, which highlighted once again how DC’s provision of special education “needs assistance” with abiding by the provisions of the IDEA law (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). Despite the fact that the law entitles students to free and appropriate education in the least restricted environment (FAPE and LRE), DC students in special education can often be excluded and segregated from their peers.

According to Oruh, DC particularly struggles with providing decent special education services to students with intellectual disabilities and mental health challenges, noting that part of the struggle is linked to the stigma of both conditions.

Both guests also noted how the intersection of multiple issues common in DC, including trauma and poverty, affect the delivery of special education services in schools. There is the additional challenge of identifying students for special education services and the reality that tracking IEPs (individual education plans) for students is often difficult, if not impossible, because of high school mobility in DC. Improvements could come about, however, if DC’s office of the state superintendent of education (which is charged with ensuring IDEA is followed) took a more family-centered approach.


Advocates for Justice and Education, 202-678-8060

IDEA law

Research says that with appropriate attention, children with disabilities can graduate on time: Hechinger Report

2017 Supreme court decision said that SPED coursework needs to be “appropriately ambitious”

ETH photo 10-10-19
L-R: T. Byrd, Latisha Chisholm, Chioma Oruh, V. Jablow

The Education Town Hall with Thomas Byrd
broadcasts from Historic Anacostia
in Washington, DC, on We Act Radio,
Thursdays at 11:00 a.m. Eastern
New programming 2nd and 4th Thursdays, alternating with classic shows.
Listen live via TuneIn.
Shows are archived for convenient listening shortly after broadcast.

After years of weekly broadcasts, the program now focuses one show each month on local issues and one on “the BUS,” organized by BadAss Teachers, United Opt Out, and SOS March.

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