A black student in special education in District 97 is 4.32 times more likely than any other student to be identified as “emotionally disturbed,” according to a recent finding by the Illinois State Board of Education.

The ISBE recently alerted Dist. 97 that they have a disproportionate representation of black students in special education categorized as “emotionally disturbed.”

Of the 876 students enrolled in special education for 2006-2007 at Dist. 97, 376 are black. Of the district’s total student population of 5,003, blacks represent 29.2 percent of students.

The state determines a school district’s disproportion based on a “relative risk ratio” tracked over a three-year period.

Based on the “relative risk ratio,” the state found that a black student in the district has 4.32 times the probability of any other student of being identified as emotionally disturbed. The state tracks whether the ratio is over 3 in a three-year span.

“We have been over three as a relative risk ratio for emotional disturbance for the last three years-that raises a lot of questions,” said Steve Castle, Dist. 97’s special education director.

Castle called the district’s ratio a significant number, but noted that school districts across the country have a disproportion of black students in special education and that more students overall are being identified as students with disabilities.

“There is a link that we see across all school districts,” Castle said of black students. “There are links between disproportion and special education, and discipline reports and referrals, and the achievement gap. All of those things kind of fit together.”

A student in Dist. 97 is identified as emotionally disturbed based on several characteristics that are evaluated by the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team. The IEP team monitors whether there is a heavy frequency of characteristics and the period of time over which they occur.

Characteristics include whether the student demonstrates an inability to develop or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers or adults. Others include demonstrating conflicts with a teacher or showing a general mood of anxiety or depression.

Castle said the district has been looking at its student data to make sure it’s in line with the state’s.

As to why so many black students are being identified in the district and nationally, Castle said there were possible contributing factors, such as biases in the curriculum or how students are referred from general education.

Castle said the district is looking at whether those factors or others contribute to the district’s disproportionate representation.

He added that the district wants to bring special education and regular education staff together with parents in those discussions.

Join the discussion on social media!