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A legacy of mistreatment for San Francisco’s black special ed students

Fellowship Story Showcase

A legacy of mistreatment for San Francisco’s black special ed students

Picture of Lee Romney
(Photo Credit: Lee Romney/KALW)
(Photo Credit: Lee Romney/KALW)
Tuesday, January 15, 2019

African-American students across the country are much more likely than any other student group to be placed in special education, and that’s true at San Francisco Unified too. The district’s troubled history has plenty to teach us about what is and isn’t working for black students with special needs today.

This is the first part of an ongoing series “Learning while black: The fight for equity in San Francisco schools.”

When the head of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP demanded the city declare a “state of emergency” to tackle low academic test results for African American students, he turned the blame on the grown-ups. “It’s not that the children are failing,” the Rev. Amos Brown told school board trustees. “I’m using the plural pronoun ‘we.’ We are failing.” The so-called equity gap has persisted for decades: As a group, African-American students in San Francisco and across the country struggle in public school, often posting the lowest test scores and graduation rates, and the highest rates of suspension and chronic absenteeism.

KALW Education Reporter Lee Romney set out to explore the systemic inequities that have hampered African American students in this changing city. Her ongoing series also showcases the resilience and power of black youth and their families, and the efforts of educators and community advocates to help them thrive.

The series has received support from the Fund for Journalism on Child Well-Being, a program of the University of Southern California Center for Health Journalism. Do you have a story idea to share? Lee wants to hear it. Reach her at

[This story was originally published by KALW.]