Denver Public Schools systematically violated the rights of Black boys with disabilities who attend specialized programs, state education officials found in a wide-ranging investigation.
The Colorado Department of Education found that the state’s largest school district sent Black boys to the specialized programs without thoroughly evaluating them and then failed to properly monitor their progress once they were there, among other violations.
The boys attend “affective needs centers,” which are separate classrooms designed to serve students with emotional disabilities. The district’s own data shows Black boys have been 4½ times as likely as other students to be placed in the centers, which the district has said have high staff turnover, subpar supplies, and make students feel “othered.”
The district had previously called its affective needs centers “one of our most glaring examples of institutional racism.” But a plan to abolish the classrooms was scrapped because district leaders decided they couldn’t appropriately serve students without them. The pre-pandemic graduation rate for Black students in the centers was 38%, district documents say.
Those statistics, along with her experience advocating for families, prompted Pam Bisceglia to file a pair of complaints with the federal Office for Civil Rights and the Colorado Department of Education on behalf of Black male students.
“We see that if a student is white, the school’s response doesn’t tend to be the same as when a student is Black,” said Bisceglia, who is the executive director of Advocacy Denver.
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