University of the District of Columbia Law Review


The privileges allotted to Americans cannot be compared to any other country’s citizens. Americans have the liberty of saying what they want, thinking what they want, and acting freely in public. Nebiyat Shiferaw (“Nebiyat”) is a thirty-year-old African American man who is unable to speak and live independently because he has autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (“ASD”). Nebiyat does not experience the same liberties as most Americans; he has gone through special education programs and has overcome discrimination, not because of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), but because of his parents advocating for him. As a substitute special education teacher, I witnessed what takes place when children do not have advocates. In 2017, I met two young boys of color named Jordan and Manuel who endured the discriminatory practices of a flawed special education system. Jordan was African American and was pulled out of class repeatedly for not raising his hand to speak. Manuel was a Latino immigrant placed in the special education class because he was still learning the English language. Unfortunately, the special education system has failed children of color, primarily African American boys, which results in young African American boys being vulnerable and experiencing more discipline throughout their childhood and into adulthood. The school-to-prison pipeline is an issue that is inadvertently leading to a ‘school-to-death’ pipeline.

First Page