U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Urges Improvement in Identification of Students for Special Education Classes

WASHINGTON--Citing evidence that minorities are over represented in special education, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, in a report released today, recommends that Congress and the Department of Education take steps leading to better identification of students for the programs.

In its report "Equal Educational Opportunity and Nondiscrimination for Students with Mental Retardation, Learning Disabilities, Behavioral Disabilities, or Serious Emotional Disturbance: Federal Enforcement of Section 504," the Commission states that more accurate identification methods would not only protect minorities against discrimination but help to assure that all students receive the appropriate education to which they are entitled in public school.

The report, the second in the "Equal Educational Opportunity Project Series" resulting from studies by the Commission's Office of Civil Rights Evaluation, was approved by a unanimous vote of the Commissioners.

The report examines implementation and enforcement of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights (OCR). It also considers other Federal laws such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act to the extent that they apply.

Although finding that Federal laws furnish extensive protections to students with disabilities and that OCR provides "comprehensive and progressive" implementation and enforcement, the report makes a number of specific recommendations for improvements to Congress, to the Education Department and its OCR, and to state and local education agencies.

In a transmittal letter to the President and to Congress, Commission Chairperson Mary Frances Berry states that the report resulted from "the Commission's long-standing commitment to ensuring that the Nation's public schools are free of discrimination and that all children in this country are afforded equal educational opportunity."

Among the recommendations for Congress is that it institute programs to develop and retain teachers for special education. The report states that a shortage of such teachers may be denying students the assistance of appropriately trained instructors.

The report also calls on Congress to fulfill its commitment to pay at least 40 percent of the excess costs of providing special education and related services to students with disabilities.

To better identify students with disabilities, the report recommends that Congress consider changing legislative definitions of behavioral disabilities and emotional disturbance to take into account cultural or ethnic norms based on community standards. Moreover, Congress should, in reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, review its overall approach to defining disabilities to determine whether another approach might be superior in assuring students with disabilities equal educational opportunity, the report states.

In addition, it is recommended that Congress appropriate funds for OCR initiatives to address the problem of misidentification.

The report may be obtained free from the Publications Office, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 624 Ninth St., N.W., Room 600, Washington, DC 20425.