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Special-needs bias at BPS cries out for independent oversight

Superintendent Mary Skipper during an October retreat at the headquarters of Boston Public Schools in the Bolling Building. It was the first in-person School Committee gathering since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Re “Report hints at special needs bias: Black, Latino boys more likely in separate BPS classes” (Page A1, Nov. 21): We served as, respectively, court-appointed monitor for special education and executive assistant to the court-appointed monitor in the Allen v. McDonough case (1980-1985), a class-action suit against the Boston Public Schools. We join the Council of the Great City Schools in thanking the current superintendent, Mary Skipper, for requesting that the council review special-education assignments in Boston. In our case, it took a court order to allow us to look into the BPS operations and dysfunctions. As we did in 1980, the council found disproportionate placements of Black and Hispanic students in segregated special-education settings and pointed out that this issue needs rectification.

The council’s report suggests, among many other issues, that there are “longstanding premises/biases triggering disproportionately high special education eligibility rates, especially for male students of color and English learners.” The report states, and we agree, that “inclusion is fully delivered when all students are educated in the [least restrictive environment] and are provided access to a full continuum of services that meet their individualized and special needs. Inclusion is not a place or program. All classrooms in the Boston Public Schools must be inclusive.”


What is encouraging is that the report finds that all the tools to correct this harmful disproportionate assignment practice are in place and makes wise recommendations to fix the problem. What is left to do now is to fix it for this generation of students. The question is: Who is going to oversee this? We strongly recommend from our experience that an independent body be put in place to report on progress of the rectification of the problem and, once resolved, to see — given the system’s “longstanding biases” — that it is not allowed to resurface.

We have long held that it is difficult to rid a society of discriminatory behavior, even if you change the gender, race, and ethnic composition of those controlling the system. If we want to move to truly equal education, we must always keep our eyes on attaining and preserving that prize.


Alex Rodriguez

Herndon, Va.

Judith A. Wright