Portland Public Schools have become the center of national attention for allegedly denying disabled students entrance into a school for talented and gifted students. Parents of several students have opted to file a civil rights complaint rather than continue to endure the associated grievance process. Portland Schools can use a similar process used by traditional and charter schools to ensure that disabled students are not victimized by the gifted program entrance requirements.
According to the article, Portland Schools hit with civil rights complaint for denying disabled students entry to gifted school, several parents are incensed with the entrance process for the Access Academy which is located in Portland Oregon. The complaint follows months of attempts by families to resolved their concerns by using the school districts grievance process. District administrators were interrupted from working to resolve the matter when the school board voted stop the grievance process. It is claimed by the school board that allowing the disabled student grievance process to continue would have forced an increase in accountability for the district.
The primary problem that the parents have is that the Portland School District lacks transparency and discriminates against student with disabilities who desire to enter the district’s gifted program. The parents found that their children’s records indicated that district officials had annotated the application forms to the Access Academy. The notes implied that student’s with a disability would be a burden to the school.
What role should the administrators have played in admitting disabled students into the Access Academy?
The primary task for the administrators is to ensure that the process is fair. It is illegal to discriminate against students who qualify as disabled. According to section 504 of the rehabilitation act, “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
Section 504 regulations require a school district to provide a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) to each qualified student with a disability who is in the school district’s jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability.” Under Section 504, FAPE consists of the provision of regular or special education and related aids and services designed to meet the student’s individual educational needs as adequately as the needs of nondisabled students are met. Schools that are noncompliant can be subjected to civil litigation as well as withholding of federal funding which can become costly for the district.
Schools that desire to continue to receive federal funding must ensure that disabled students are not victimized. They can enhance the selection process by using an application process that is more objective than subjective. For example Boston Public Schools uses an Exam School Initiative (ESI). ESI program is designed to bridge the gap for students in the district’s traditionally underrepresented schools to gain admission and achieve success at one of the three Boston exam schools. BPS invites rising 6th graders based on standardized test scores or principal recommendations to participate in the summer program. The ESI initiative focuses on test taking and academic preparedness. The fall program brings these same students back on Saturdays in the weeks leading up to the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) in November building upon the summer curriculum. Using this program makes entrance into a talented and gifted program place a premium on objectives rather than subjectives.
The other challenge that the Portland Public is having involves the quantity of students who apply for admission. Per the article, the Access Academy received 177 applications for 76 spots in first through eighth grade and seventy-one applicants were waitlisted. There was no information provided for the waitlisted process.
Instead of a process that could lead to the discrimination of disabled students, the Portland Public Schools could use a process that many charter schools utilize. For example, the Elysian Charter School of Hoboken employs a lottery process as follows. “In the event that Elysian receives more applications than there are openings in a specific grade, a public lottery will be held. The public lottery for spots in all grades (K–8) is normally held in mid-January for the following school year admission. Families are invited to attend the lottery.” Portland Public Schools can utilize a preparation and lottery entrance process to ensure that the perception of discrimination against disabled students is unfounded.
All the best,
Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
PO Box 4707 Cherry Hill, NJ 08034
Author of Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships and Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships: Methodology
The Raccelerate Phenomenon
Treasures of Hidden Racism in Education
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