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Excerpted from: Dustin Rynders, Battling Implicit Bias in the Idea to Advocate for African American Students with Disabilities, 35 Touro Law Review 461 (2019) (120 Footnotes) (Full Document)

DustinRyndersThe disproportionate representation, discipline, and restrictive placement of African American students in special education is an urgent problem and a hotly contested issue. Currently, African American students are overrepresented in special education when compared to their white peers. African American students are also disciplined at higher rates than their white peers and put in more restrictive placement settings. Implicit bias is one of the contributing reasons for this disproportionality. This paper will explore how the systematic problems of implicit bias for African Americans in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems translate to implicit bias problems and disproportionality in the special education system. Additionally, this paper explores how the federal government attempts to combat this problem through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (hereinafter “IDEA”) and possible legal solutions lawyers can use in the courtroom and in their own practice to combat implicit bias.

[Editor Note Below is the outline of the article]

I. What is the IDEA?
II. Defining Implicit Bias
III. The Role of Implicit Bias in Other Child Serving Systems
IV. What We Know of Implicit Bias in Education
V. Implicit Bias in Special Education Referrals
VI. Implicit Bias in Special Education Placement
VII. Implicit Bias in Discipline
VIII. How Does IDEA Address Disproportionalities
IX. Systemic Protections for Schools with Significant Disproportionality
X. Addressing Implicit Bias
XI. Understanding Cultural Humility and Cross-Cultural Lawyering to Serve Students and Families from Cultures Different than your Own
XII. Obtaining and Analyzing Data to Raise Implicit Bias
XIII. Raising Complaints that Address Racial Discrimination

Unfortunately, special education identification, discipline, services, and placement are too often influenced by race. Educators and advocates must understand the role that implicit bias plays in producing these disproportionalities and find ways to incorporate promising practices from research to prevent racially-biased decision making. Special education attorneys should not shy away from opportunities to raise racial and national origin discrimination in cases when appropriate and look for opportunities to partner with racial justice organizations. In this work, attorneys must commit ourselves to learning more about the needs of African American learners and other cultural minorities, while understanding that we must remain humble about the limitations of what we can understand. We must all commit ourselves to self-reflection, cultural learning, and advocacy to achieve educational equity.

Attorney at Disability Rights Texas (formerly Advocacy, Inc)