The state Department of Education says District 25 has an unusually high percentage of American Indian students in special education classes.
The department is stopping short of accusing the district of profiling such students, but it’s easy to read between the lines.
District officials say the state is wrong and only those students with learning disabilities are assigned to special ed. A meeting has been scheduled for later this month to try to work out the matter.
At that meeting the opinion of Jody Crowe, the former superintendent of Shoshone-Bannock schoos, should be considered.
Crowe says the real problem is the Fort Hall Indian reservation’s epidemic of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder cases.
Crowe says these disorders are the reason why so many Native American students are finding themselves in District 25 special ed classes.
He’s probably right.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders happen when a pregnant woman consumes alcohol, resulting in her child suffering from varying degrees of mental retardation, anxiety and impulse control issues. The severity of the problem depends not only on how much alcohol is consumed but also in which trimester the woman drinks.
When it comes to District 25 putting too many Native American students in special education classes, Crowe said the “elephant in the middle of the room” that no one wants to discuss is the very real brain damage from prenatal exposure to alcohol.
He says that District 25 should address the problem of fetal alcohol disorders among Native American students rather than focusing simply on the percentage of Indian students enrolled in special ed. He’s also urging the district to not fall into the trap of blaming those numbers on cultural differences.
He said that until everyone owns up to the real problem, it will continue being ignored to the detriment of Indian students, District 25 and the communities it serves.
District 25 would be wise to listen to Crowe, who’s spent 18 years as an educator on Indian reservations.
The state Department of Education’s report on the district’s high percentage of Indian special ed students is a clear sign that there’s a problem.
The district needs to delve into this matter and find some answers.
Ian H. Fennell is editor of the Idaho State Journal.