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Expert Q&A

A special-education teacher made a hurtful comment about my daughter’s potential. Could this be considered discrimination?

I have a daughter in 7th grade receiving special education services. She came home today telling me that her teacher told her that she will have to go to a two-year school instead of a four-year college. She was very upset and is now thinking that it must be a horrible thing to be in special ed. I think that this is discrimination on the teacher’s part and am wondering what kind of action can be taken against this teacher who is “predetermining” what my daughter will and will not be capable of when it comes to college and her future.

Sadly, adults often say things that are inappropriate or damaging to children, whether related to their disability or otherwise. It was wrong for the teacher to say what was said, but it doesn’t really constitute discrimination. The teacher has no power to make that decision nor the ability to competently predict that outcome so far into the future. You are correct that schools can not “predetermine” a child’s placement prior to an IEP meeting, but the comment she made, however inappropriate, doesn’t represent a decision by the IEP team, nor is it appropriate to “determine” that when the child is only in 7th grade. At most, such issues, which can and should be addressed through the transition planning component of the IEP process, only represent some assessment of possible or likely activities after graduation. They are not final decisions that can not be modified. In fact, such decisions require input from you and the child and should be reviewed and adjusted on an annual basis until the student graduates or ages out of eligibility for services.

I would bring the comment to the attention of appropriate supervisory staff at the school and seek some means to have the staff correct this statement and for your daughter to feel that her options have not been predetermined. If the staff is not willing to do this, you may need to work on this on your own or with the help of some mental health professional knowledgeable about the special education process.

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