By Sandi P. Beason
TUPELO – A report released last week by the State Department of Education has Tupelo school district officials working to bring in line with state goals its percentage of minority students in special education.
Special Education Director Mary Ruth Wright said the state has set a target of 1.947 percent ratio between the number of white students and the number of African-American students identified as having specific learning disabilities. As determined by monitors in February, Tupelo's rate is 6.671 percent.
“The purpose of special education in the Tupelo Public School District is to serve all children with disabilities who meet state guidelines for eligibility, regardless of race,” she said. “We are serving children. Are we doing something wrong? We don't think we are, but we will continue to work on the process and continue to reduce that number.”
Grouped by student enrollment totals, Tupelo had the highest percentage in its group. Statewide, the district with the highest percentage rate was George County, with 12.378 percent.
Some districts registered negative percentages because the districts “are all black or have very few whites,” she said.
Tupelo Public School District has roughly 58 percent of students who are white or of other ethnic groups, and 42 percent who are African-American, so the state department recommended that “we should equal out on the number of minorities with disabilities and other ethnic groups with disabilities,” Wright said.
“However, we can't pick which students have disabilities and which will not,” she said. “We don't believe the differential number is tied to the needs of students. It's just a number they set.”
The Tupelo district uses various testing instruments to determine if students should be placed in special education and considers socio-economic and other factors when testing, Wright said. But race is not used to determine a student's eligibility, she stressed.
Monitors are expected to return in 18 months and expect the district's ratio to have been reduced.