Total Pageviews

Saturday, November 20, 2010

On African American Boys and Special Education by Aurora Harris

Good Morning Everyone.

It is 9:00 a.m. and this morning at Marygrove College, there is a symposium taking place called "Boys of Color, Perilous Times." As an advocate for an autistic student in a Detroit Transition Center, I decided to conduct research concerning the often overlooked and/or forgotten issues and concerns pertaining to the population of special needs / exceptional African American males, aged birth to 26.

In the past, as a guest speaker on diversity and race relations panels, I shared with the audience the discovery of articles by researchers, parents, educators, and psychologists that studied or discussed the fact that African American male students are often labeled as learning disabled, dysfunctional, retarded, or impaired by teachers and psychological teams.  In addition to that fact, many children born with disabilities do not experience "early detection" that includes testing and diagnosis early enough...detection that puts parents and guardians on a life long journey of seeking and providing medical, educational, social, and economic supports.

Concerning Autism and Autism Spectrum, and, not having early detection,  I shared my own story. My family member was not diagnosed until he was almost 7 years old by the school. When he was three years old I watched him, wrote down the behaviors I saw, and drove to Wayne State University to search for information that matched the symptoms. When I took him to various doctors, clinics and psychologists, and told them, "I believe he is autistic," I was told, "He has too many behaviors. He is too young to be given diagnosis." He was placed in Emotionally Impaired classrooms until someone in a school area office found his file and called me to let me know that he was too far overdue for an IEP. After I had met with three schools and their teams to bring into compliance the IEP's, I finally received a proper diagnosis of Autism.

From not receiving early detection, it was up to me to keep advocating for my nephew. In my case, a school psychologist or social worker who saw his file collecting dust on desk... a person who remembered our names and took a chance to call the phone number in the file, was what led to my nephew getting a proper diagnosis.  Other information that I shared with the audience concerning African Americans and Autism came from ( ) .

When we talk about the historical treatment or regard of African American boys, if they are not born with a special need /disability, it appears that they are assigned one. If they are born with a special need / disability, then they are forgotten or rendered invisible after being cast into the systemic and institutionalized socio-economic net of factors and myths that prevent parents or guardians from gaining access to the supports that they need. I mentioned myths because in an effort to understand what my family member experiences,  I find the myths in the information that I collect concerning autism and autism spectrum disorder. It is through these materials... articles, studies, and websites, that I get to see what the common myths are. For information on learning disabilities and myths see the Introduction to Learning Disabilities at the National Association of Special Ed Teachers website at

As some of our parents in Detroit know, the parents of children and students with special needs / disabilities along with their parent involvement efforts are often excluded from discussions and conferences that explore the plight of African American males.  The discussion of African American male experiences in K-12 special ed and adult transition centers are often non-existent, unless you are attending a group meeting or conference that is specifically geared to this population of students.

While reflecting on how African American special needs and general education students are excluded, I remembered being in graduate school and being a part of two African American Male conferences.  I was a facilitator at a conference that was held in Detroit at Greater Grace Church by one of my colleagues, Dr. Jelani Jabari of Pedagogical Solutions. The other conference was held at Eastern Michigan University. I also remembered talking to other educators and students about some of the things that keep African American males (with and without special needs/ disabilities) from achieving and how we could increase the educational opportunities of special needs students.

One of the things that I remember from one of the conversations was how parents or family members are often blamed for not participating in their male student(s) lives or they are blamed for creating a situation at home that "leads to" non-disabled African American male students being diagnosed or labeled disabled, cognitive or emotionally impaired, or having any level of mental retardation, or autistim. I could not believe that I was hearing that one's family dynamics or social setting is the sole reason that creates a biological or physical disability or impairment after a child is born and goes off to school. In my world, a child that acts out one or two times does not suddenly become biologically impaired, mentally retarded, or autistic because two parents or one parent are considered or judged to be poor, the working poor, illiterate, or undereducated.

I mention this because in 2010, as I embark on my journey with DPS- WRESA Special Education Parent Advisory Committee members to locate the parents of special needs / disabled students in the Detroit Public Schools District, I have found on several occasions that I am faced with continued statements of blame, bias, discrimination, disdain, and exclusion directed at parents, guardians, and special needs/ disabled students.  To be quite frank, when I ask, "How can we find the parents?"  I am told things like, "The parents are special ed folks themselves," or "The parents are ignorant, illiterate or mentally impaired themselves,"  or " Special Ed is for gifted and talented only." As an advocate, my continued response is, "Every and All parents of special needs / disabled students do not fit those negative descriptions" and" If Special ed is believed to be for gifted and talented or excellent students only, then what happens to my child and others who do not fit that description?" In many instances, I  receive a blank stare or silence as a response.

At this time I would like to share with you an article from educator Pedro Noguero called "The Trouble with Black Boys" (  ). The article in its entirety can be found by clicking on the link. The article discusses many of the factors that keep African American males from achieving in school. For example, Dr. Noguero stated that:

A vast body of research on children in poverty shows that impoverished conditions greatly increase the multiplier effect on risk variables (i.e. single parent household, low birth weight, low educational attainment of parents, etc.).(23) Poor children generally receive inferior services from schools and agencies that are located in the inner-city, and poor children often have many unmet basic needs. This combination of risk factors makes it is nearly impossible to establish cause and effect relationships among them. For example, research has shown that a disproportionate number of poor children suffer from various sight disorders.(24) Throughout the country Black children are over represented in special education programs; and those most likely to be placed are overwhelmingly Black, male and poor.(25) However, the disabilities experienced by children are often related to poverty, rather than a biological disorder. For example, because poor children often lack access to preventative health care, their untreated vision problems are inaccurately diagnosed as reading problems and as a consequence, large numbers are placed in remedial and special education programs.(26)

The situation in special education mirrors a larger trend in education for African Americans generally, and males in particular. Rather than serving as a source of hope and opportunity, schools are sites where Black males are marginalized and stigmatized.(27) Consistently, schools that serve Black males fail to nurture, support or protect them. In school, Black males are more likely to be labeled as behavior problems and less intelligent even while they are still very young.(28) Black males are also more likely to be punished with severity, even for minor offenses, for violating school rules;(29) often without regard for their welfare. They are more likely to be excluded from rigorous classes and prevented from accessing educational opportunities that might otherwise support and encourage them.(30) 
* Source: Nouguero, 2002, In Motion Magazine,

While the plight of African American males is the subject of the day, as a reminder to conference, symposium, or group discussion planners, I say: " Be inclusive. Don't forget to include in future discussions our special needs / disabled students, their life and educational experiences, and the parent involvement experiences of the parents and guardians. "

Aurora Harris

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Welcome Detroit Parents with Special Ed Students

To All Detroit Parents with Special Ed students!

My name is Aurora Harris and I am an advocate for a relative who is Autistic. I have an M.A. in Social Foundations of Education. Lakeya Martin, our partner blogger and co-editor, has an A.A., and, also has a child with Autism. As members of parent groups that advocate on behalf of students with special needs in Detroit, we have spoken to many parents that have children with disabilities. We found that in the City of Detroit, parents either do not have access to or are not receiving information pertaining to special education, services, laws, and changes in laws at the Federal or State levels that affect children and parents' rights. We (the parents that contribute to this blog) are in agreement that the purpose of this blog is to provide an INTERCULTURAL and INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY space, and, information that encourages parents' learning and continued participation in their disabled childrens' lives (ages birth through 26 in the State of Michigan) through the acquisition of knowledge about:

1. Your legal rights, 2. The IEP and Special education in general, 3. Federal and State laws; 4. Advocacy groups in the State of Michigan and other states, 5. Educational trends within the United States; 6. Workshops by community agencies, centers, and parent groups that by Federal law are to have 1. "A board of directors- the majority of whom are parents of children with disabilities ages birth through 26" and 2. "Has a mission serving families of children with disabilities," and, abides by the laws that protect the rights of disabled persons; and, 7. Participating through the expression of personal experiences with special needs children and special education in the form of letters, creative writing, and poetry.

The advocacy links that are added to this blog are submitted by parents that have either been involved with the groups or agencies or they received helpful information from them. As a parent and independent researcher, some links are added from my research interests concerning autism, law, advocacy, and diversity. This site serves as an INFORMATION SITE. Views and opinions of other agencies or groups that appear on this blog may not be in agreement with yours, mine, or the parents that contribute to this blog. Lakeya, the parents contributing to this blog, and I do not provide legal or medical advice. It is up to each reader of this blog to read through the materials and make your own informed decisions regarding what information is helpful for you.

You will find links to information pertaining to various advocacy agencies, meetings, and workshops that are being scheduled in Detroit; parents' concerns, personal stories of parents and students; and hopefully more links to resources that are in Arabic, Spanish, Bengali, Hindi, and Hmong. Parents are encouraged to email us so that we can get your contributions added. All letters, stories, or poems submitted by parents and students are considered the copyrighted materials that they want published, copied, and circulated to others, and, they have the right to submit or withdraw what is posted at anytime by sending me or Lakeya a request to the emails listed below. We are not responsible for any links to websites that do not work.

On September 9, 2010 the Detroit Board of Education appointed parents with special ed students currently in a Detroit Public Schools as members to the Detroit Public Schools Special Education-Wayne RESA Parent Advisory Committee to serve for 3 years. Seated voting members of the PAC that are representing the District at the County level are: Frances Williams, Lakeya Martin, Verna Brocks, Celena Barnes, and Tamara Howard. The alternates are Aundra Bomar, Aurora Harris, Eileen Gordon-King, and Julia Hernandez. See September 9, 2010 DPS Board minutes at:

Two basic purposes of the Detroit Special Ed-Wayne RESA Parent Advisory Committee are:

1. To advise the Detroit Board of Education on matters pertaining to special education as it relates to the DISTRICT

2. To fulfill those responsibilities designated in Rule 340.1838 Michigan Administrative Rules for Special Education Supplemented with IDEA Federal Regulations, April 2009, that states that the representatives "shall consist only of parents of students with disabilities with at least 1 parent from each constituent local school district and public school academy. The PAC also facilitates communication, awareness, and involvement between parents, local districts, Boards of Education/Boards of Directors and the Intermediate School District.


Aurora Harris and Lakeya Martin

Rule 340.1838. (Please make a note that at the county level- Wayne-RESA, because the Detroit School District is the largest in the State, we have 5 voting members and 3 Alternates that were appointed by the DPS Board of Education).

(1) A parent advisory committee shall be appointed by each intermediate school district board.

(a) The parent advisory committee and its officers shall consist only of parents of students with disabilities with at least 1 parent from each constituent local school district and public school academy unless no parent agrees to serve on the parent advisory committee to represent the constituent local school district or public school academy.

(b) Each constituent local school district board of education and each public school academy board of directors shall nominate at least 1 parent.

(c) The intermediate school district board of education may nominate additional members not to exceed 33 1/3% of the total parent advisory committee membership.

(2) The intermediate school district board of education shall make every attempt to assure that all types of impairments and all identifiable organizations of parents of students with disabilities within the intermediate school district are represented on the parent advisory committee.

(3) The intermediate school district board of education may recommend operational procedures for parent advisory committee review and adoption.

(4) The intermediate school district shall secure or allocate fiscal and staff resources to the parent advisory committee to make it efficient and effective in operation.

(5) The parent advisory committee is responsible for determining and documenting,in writing, the organizational structure of the committee, including all of the following:

(a) Officers and their responsibilities.
(b) Meeting times.
(c) Notice of meeting times.
(d) Voting procedures.
(e) Terms of office.
(f) Related matters


3. REGARDING FILING COMPLAINTS by the Michigan State Board of Education Superintendent: STATE COMPLAINTS

R 340.1851 Filing a state complaint.

Rule 151. (1) A state complaint, meeting the requirements of 34 CFR § 300.153, shall be filed with the department and a copy forwarded to the public agency that is the subject of the state complaint.
(2) A state complaint shall be filed with the department within 1 year of the date of the alleged violation.
(3) A state complaint shall be delivered to the department and the public agency by mail, by fax, or by hand.
(4) Any person acting on behalf of a complainant shall provide evidence of that authority.

R 340.1852 General responsibilities of public agencies, intermediate school districts, and the department.
Rule 152. (1) All public agencies shall receive allegations of violations of state or federal regulations pertaining to special education. When an allegation is made orally, the recipient public agency may take formal or informal action as necessary to resolve the situation in compliance with applicable provisions of law, but, at a minimum, shall immediately do all of the following:

(a) Inform the person making the allegation that he or she has a right to file a written state complaint with the department.
(b) Inform the person making the allegation that the filing of a state complaint may be delayed so that mediation or other informal resolution may be attempted. The right to file a state complaint is retained if the informal attempts to resolve the concern in a timely manner are unsuccessful.
(c) Provide the person making the allegation with a copy of part 8 of these rules and the department's procedures pertaining to state complaints.
(d) Offer to assist the person in filing a state complaint.

(2) All public agencies shall have procedures to receive state complaints.
(3) If requested, the intermediate school district shall assist a person in writing a state complaint.
(4) When a state complaint is filed, the department shall provide the complainant with all of the following: (a) A copy of part 8 of these rules. (b) A copy of the procedures established by the department pertaining to state complaints. (c) A copy of the procedural safeguards notice. (d) Information regarding mediation.
R 340.1853 Investigation, report, and final decision of a state complaint.

Rule 153. (1) The department and the intermediate school district shall investigate state complaints pursuant to part 8 of these rules, procedures established by the department pertaining to state complaints, and the federal regulations implementing the individuals with disabilities education act. The department may independently initiate and investigate a state complaint.
(2) The intermediate school district shall appoint a staff member, or contract with an independent agent, to conduct the investigation with the department. The intermediate school district investigator shall not have administrative authority over programs or services against which a state complaint is filed.
(3) The public agency shall cooperate with the department and the intermediate school
district during the conduct of the investigation, including submitting documents requested by the intermediate school district or the department.
(4) The department, during the pendency of the state complaint, shall require any public agency against which the complaint was lodged to maintain the educational status, program placement, and services of an involved student as it was before the complaint if, in the judgment of the department, not doing so constitutes a violation of the student’s due process protections.
(5) The department shall issue a final written decision within 60 calendar days after a complaint is filed.
(6) The department may grant an extension of time if exceptional circumstances exist with respect to a particular state complaint. A denial of an extension request is final.
(7) The department shall mail the final written report to the complainant, any public
agency subject to the state complaint, and the intermediate school district.

R 340.1854 Corrective action and proof of compliance.

Rule 154. (1) The public agency shall correct violations as directed by the department.
(2) The intermediate school district shall assist the public agency in monitoring the
progress of the corrective action.
(3) The public agency shall submit proof of compliance to the department and the
intermediate school district documenting that the violation is corrected within the time line specified in the corrective action.

R 340.1855 Failure to comply with corrective action in a timely manner; sanctions.

Rule 155 (1) If a public agency fails to correct known violations of law in a timely manner,or fails to cooperate with the department or the intermediate school district during the conduct of its investigation, or presents known falsification of fact, or continues repetition of similar violations, the department shall do 1 or more of the following:
(a) If the public agency in violation is a local school district or a public school
academy, then the department shall direct the intermediate school district to provide
complying programs and services pursuant to section 1702 of 1976 PA 451, MCL 380.1702.
(b) If the public agency in violation is an intermediate school district, the department may withdraw the authority of the intermediate school district to operate a program that is in noncompliance and simultaneously require the public agency of residence to place the affected student or students in an appropriate program.
(c) Withhold federal funds under part B of the individuals with disabilities education act, 20 U.S.C. chapter 33, §1400, et seq.
(d) Apply other penalties under 1976 PA 451, MCL 380.1.
(e) Withhold state funds under 1979 PA 94, MCL 388.1601, or any other governing
(f) Withhold, withdraw, or suspend such endorsements, approvals, credentials, grants, or authorizations pertaining to special education personnel or projects that the department, or its designee, had authority to grant as authorized by, and in accordance with, the procedures required by law.
(g) Seek enforcement of the corrective action in a court of appropriate jurisdiction.