Rep. Thissen Tackles Disproportionate Labeling of African American and Native American Students as Having Emotional and Behavioral Disor

Rep. Paul Thissen is moving legislation to require school districts to adopt culturally competent policies and provide cultural competency training for dismissal, special education referrals, reading intervention and other intervention services.

"The numbers don’t lie: far more African American and Native students are being placed in special education and labeled with emotional and behavioral disorders than other students.  And in too many cases that label condemns those students to academic failure.”

In Minneapolis, 21% of African American students were in special education programs last year and one in every four Native students was in a special education program. Only 13% of white students were similarly placed. Further, over the last few years, around 4% of African American students were labeled as having emotional and behavioral disorders. That compares to less than 1% of white students. Research shows that poverty and other socio-economic factors play some role in the disproportionate numbers of African American and Native children in special education and EBD, but those factors do not explain the gap entirely. Cultural bias also plays a role.

Statewide, only 40% of EBD students graduate from high school. At Minneapolis’ Harrison Education Center, 6% of students graduate.

“This should matter to every one of us not just for economic but for moral reasons. We’re giving up on these kids too easily because they are too easy to ignore. It’s time to take responsibility for our most vulnerable and challenged students.”