Principals Show Disability Discrimination in School Access, Study Finds

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About the Guest(s):

Lauren Rivera is an esteemed scholar with a focus on discrimination, specifically hiring discrimination, and the complex interplay between social class, gender, and race in social structures. Specializing in sociology, Rivera’s professional expertise extends to studying how various forms of discrimination manifest within societal institutions. In a rare blend of personal experience and academic rigor, she has delved into the topic of disability discrimination in educational access through her recent research article published in the American Sociological Review titled “Not in My Schoolyard: Disability Discrimination in Education Access.” As a parent of a child with disabilities, Rivera brings a deeply personal perspective to her work, illuminating the substantial barriers faced by families seeking equitable education for their children.

Episode Summary:

Lauren Rivera shares groundbreaking findings from her study on principals’ discriminatory behavior towards families with children with disabilities. The episode opens up with Rivera recounting her groundbreaking research, where over 20,000 school principals in four states were contacted through a field experiment aimed at uncovering discrimination at the very beginning of educational access – the school tour request process.

Rivera’s study examined the response rate to emails requesting school tours, varying the presence of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for the child and the perceived race of the parents. The results were eye-opening, revealing a pervasive pattern of discrimination against children with IEPs, which was significantly more pronounced if the child was also perceived to be from a Black family. The research sheds light not only on the discriminatory challenges encountered before enrollment but also on the stressors such experiences impose on families searching for fitting educational settings for their children.


Key Takeaways:

  • School officials are less likely to respond to tour requests for children with IEPs, especially if the parents are perceived as Black.
  • Discrimination in educational access occurs before enrollment, influenced by disability status and race.
  • The experiment suggests principals perceive children with IEPs as resource burdens and Black parents as less involved school community members.
  • Rivera’s personal experience as a parent of a child with disabilities adds a poignant layer to the discussion and research findings.


For Students with Disabilities, Discrimination Starts Before They Even Enter School:

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