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Black Males and Special Education

by W.T. Purnell, Jr.

My name is W.T. Purnell, Jr. I am a retired military service member. I decided to work with youth at risk programs when I retired from the United States Army. I finished my degree in Criminal Justice and entered Grad School. I enrolled in the Counseling and Psychology Program because I wanted to work with youth in the school system.

I am responding to the subject of Overrepresentation of Black Student in Special Education Classroom. Because of what I experienced in November 1998 in Huntsville, Alabama. I believe that we do have a major problem in the area of special education. When evaluating the program as related to Black males. I agree that Black males are overrepresented in special education classes. I am aware that some of our white teachers fail to reach young Black males. The fact that they do not understand or do not have the professional training needed to deal with the personality and behavior of Black males, they use the special education program to resolve the behavior problem. This account for the large number of Black males in the special education classes. I believe that the center focus of this problem is the parent and the teacher. The attitude of the parent and the attitude of the teacher, including the fact that the schools officials do not understand the concept of special education. Schools are using the Special Education Programs as none other than a Behavior Management Tool, Personnel charged with managing schools special education programs do not do a good job of managing the programs. This account also for violations of students and parents rights. Special Education is a label attached to students with simple behavior problem.

Black males are in a lot of trouble in the schools, and this problem of attaching labels, and placing them into special education classes is creating more of a problem. Parents are not included in the process as we believe they are. I worked with Foster Care Student, and was involved in the Individual Service Plan. I worked in a major detention school and lock up facility. 60% of he young Black males were enrolled in special education in the lock up facility. They had behavior problems but enrollment in special education was related to behavior not performance. The student that were in special education in the lock up facility, and in foster care had no problem performing the school work when properly coached. One of the Black males who was in foster care he was enrolled in special education without being tested. The teacher was asked to provide all his class work to another teacher. After about two weeks we evaluated the student. He had out performed ever student in his class. His work was not special education work, but was the work that the other classmates performed. Management was at a shock to learn that this student could perform so well. The results are clear and present in many special education settings that Black male youth are in.

The problem I observed is with the school system and its management. The pattern is that many of the special education officials are not enforcing the rules, as they apply to special education enrollment. Parents in most cases are not capable of dealing with the school officials. The teacher attitude is already developed by he the time the parent is notified of the problem. Parents are included, and advised of the probe when the student is going to court for a major issue. Therefore my theory that Behavior Management and Special Education need to be divided is of a fact. Use the Behavior Management Tool apart from Special Education. Student with behavior problems need Behavior Modification Training. Parents need to be apart of that training process. But black males with behavior problems should not be place in special education classes, and labeled as not capable of performing classroom work, Conduct in school is rated and as such students performance ratings should be evaluated fair and just. I believe that if we set Behavior Management apart from Special Education, and enforce the rules of enrolling students, in special education classes that we will see a major drop in the number of Black males in special education.

W.T. Purnell, Jr
United States Army

Published in In Motion Magazine December 15, 2000.