Denver Public Schools won’t separate students with emotional disabilities

Denver Public Schools had planned to abolish its system of separate classrooms for students with emotional disabilities, describing them recently as “one of our most glaring examples of institutionalized racism.”

Black male students are four and a half times as likely as other students to be placed in these classrooms, where, advocates say, they get a subpar education.

But when Denver schools start next week, the classrooms that the district’s own staff have called problematic will remain open. The district now says that closing the classrooms, known as affective needs centers, goes against its “obligations to appropriately serve students with disabilities.”

That has prompted Advocacy Denver, a group that works with families of children with disabilities, to file a complaint this month with the federal Office for Civil Rights, alleging a pattern of discrimination against Black male students.

“We’ve been having discussions with the district for many, many years in terms of the disproportionality,” said Pamela Bisceglia, executive director of Advocacy Denver.

She said that while she appreciates that the district acknowledged the inequity, she’s frustrated that it backed out of deploying a bold solution.

With a new superintendent, Alex Marrero, taking the helm of Denver Public Schools last month, Bisceglia said she wanted to make sure the issue got the attention it deserves. She said she was heartened when Marrero called her within 15 minutes of getting her complaint.

“Students don’t have time for new leaders to catch up,” Bisceglia said.

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