ment decisions in special education for all children.
If we do not think about and talk about race and diversity in
our schools, seeking only to be “color blind” and “race neutral,”
racial disparities may continue to worsen. This move toward a more
race-conscious practice may seem abstract, but small steps can turn
the tide. Begin the discussion with a frank review of practice in your
district. This may begin within the school board, with your superintendent, with senior administration, or with community
In Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, authors Adams, Bell,
and Griffin offer four stages to help introduce the concept of race
and its impact. These stages may assist your district as you work
through this difficult topic.
1. Begin with low-risk activities. Seek to create an environment
in which participants feel safe enough to express and examine
deep feelings. Begin with individual reflection, then move
to discussions in pairs and small groups, before engaging in
2. Move from concrete to abstract. Provide concrete examples
that are rooted in concrete experiences.
3. Move from personal to instructional/societal. Before examining how race impacts your district, first explore race on a
4. Move from difference to dominance. Look
into individual experiences as members of a
racial or ethnic group and listen to others talk
about their experiences before introducing
more difficult contexts such as power and
Important Questions to Consider
When school board members consider how to
improve special education in their district, it may
be helpful for them to reflect on the following
• How do we think about and talk about race
and its impact on our students, families, and
• Where are the children in our special education program being educated, and do we
have racial divides in our special education
• How can we support race-conscious practices
among all levels of staff in our district?
• How can we engage in and encourage serious
discussion within our educational community
that includes those from different racial and
Race is an often difficult and emotional topic.
It drives much debate and impacts education in so
many different ways. Lay on top of that the issue of
special needs and disability, and a complex picture
emerges. Potentially biased decision making can
impact a child’s special education experience in
numerous ways explored throughout this series.
It is only through a thoughtful, measured approach that we see the needle move toward race-conscious practice where difference is truly valued
and children’s diverse needs are met. Together we
can be the difference.H
Karlyn Keller, EdD, is division director of TASB Special