New Report by UCLA Civil Rights Project Details Educational Inequity for Students with Disabilities

Nationwide findings reveal need for race-conscious funding to serve children of color with disabilities.

A new report by the UCLA Civil Rights ProjectDisabling Inequity: The Urgent Need for Race Conscious Remedies, highlights the inequitable conditions of learning faced by students with disabilities and underscores a lack of awareness and action that threatens to deepen the disparate impact the pandemic has had on children of color with disabilities.

The research makes clear that pre-pandemic, there was a rise in students exposed to trauma, and a growing number of students with disabilities who are entitled to mental and behavioral supports. School districts are legally obligated to identify these students and address their needs under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  Today, students eligible to benefit from the Rehabilitation Act now account for less than three percent of all enrolled students (1.4 million students). Yet, the new analysis finds more than 300 large districts that don’t recognize even one such student among their student body. 

In particular, students of color with disabilities are unlikely to have their needs recognized and met, raising concerns that some districts may continue to fail to recognize these students and that such failure will further entrench the racially disparate harm caused by the pandemic. The report raises similar concerns about the larger group of approximately seven million students that have been deemed eligible for special education and related support and services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

“The focus on the experiences of students with disabilities reveals profound racial disparities and stark losses of instructional time and raises the possibility that in many districts, educators are failing to meet their obligations to address the mental and behavioral health needs of children,” said Dan Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies and the lead researcher on the report.  

The report recommends increases in race-conscious funding to address inequities and major improvements to the monitoring and enforcement of federal civil rights law. Without these, the report concludes that the continued failure to meet the needs of children with disabilities, and those who have experienced trauma, will mean that the deepest and most sustained harms from the pandemic will be experienced by children of color with disabilities.

Disabling Inequity: The Urgent Need for Race Conscious Remedies is a research project of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies, an initiative of the UCLA Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles. The research was led by Daniel J. Losen, Paul Martinez and Grace Shin.  The report, including an executive summary and specific recommendations is available online