On Friday, September 14, the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc, and The Leadership Conference Educational Fund hosted the “Willfully Defying: Let Our Kids Learn” issue forum at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 48th Annual Legislative Conference. Panelists Nicole Dooley, Rachel Vitti, Micah Webb, and Dr. Adai Tefera discussed the stigma associated with being a person of color and having a learning disability, the school-to-prison pipeline, and the significantly disproportionate amount of students of color and students with disabilities who are disciplined.

Data currently suggests that students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to be suspended as students without disabilities, and one in four black males with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) receive out-of-school suspensions (compared to 1 in 10 white males with IEPs). Micah Webb, a special education teacher in Fairfax County Schools, shared that African-American students face unique challenges in schools and informed the audience that discipline within a classroom begins with the relationships teachers form with students and the learning environment created within classrooms. Further, Nicole Dooley elaborated on the negative impact of being incarcerated in the juvenile system has on kids with disabilities.

Throughout the issue forum, panelists engaged in a thoughtful dialogue with the audience about the stigma that surrounds learning disabilities within the African-American community. Audience members shared stories of the fear they felt when they learned their child was diagnosed with a learning disability and how they felt it might preclude them from reaching their full potential in society. Dr. Adai Tefera and Rachel Vitti discussed all the options available for students with learning disabilities and how the proper accommodations can level the playing field for all students and help ensure success.

NCLD recognizes the significance of race and class within the educational system and is committed to amplifying the voices of  the marginalized populations. We will continue working to make sure every child, regardless of skin color, ability, or orientation, has access to a quality education.

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