1979 ruling sought to address high numbers of African-American students put in special education
Grace Rauh, Oakland Tribune Online, Jun. 23
UNION CITY — Pamela Lewis is no savvy activist.
She doesn’t know how to write a press release or craft a picket sign, but the mother of five is determined to trigger a grass-roots campaign against a rule that bars her 6-year-old son from receiving a standardized IQ test — because he’s an African-American.
“It’s discrimination, it’s a violation of my son’s civil rights and it’s racism,” Lewis said. “We’re fighting this all the way.”
The ruling comes from the 1979 case of Larry P. v. Riles, in which a judge decided that IQ tests could not be administered to African-American children to determine their placement in special education classes in California.
The ruling sought to address the overabundance of African-American students who were placed in special education classes after performing poorly on the IQ test, Lewis said.
Lewis doesn’t deny that the test may have been discriminatory toward African-American children in the past. She’s just convinced that the educational playing field is more level today.
“This is closet racism within the school district and the courts,” she said. “Basically they’re saying if you’re black, you’re dumb.”
Lewis learned about the ruling when registering her son Nicholas for speech therapy with the New Haven Unified School District in May.
“This comes up occasionally in our school district,” said Blaine Cowick, director of special services for the New Haven district. “Do I agree with Larry P. or not? I think there’s room for it to be reviewed. I think it would have to be challenged by a group of parents, or a legislature would have to do some work on it. . . . I don’t think a district would be in a position of taking it on.”
The district is following a state directive by withholding the test from African-American children, Cowick said.
Lewis said district officials told her that if she really wanted her son to take the test, she should mark him down as a Caucasian because he is biracial. She refused.
Lewis is searching for legal representation to help her efforts, but she hasn’t found any takers. Some people she has spoken with have urged her not to fight for access to a racially biased test, she said.
But Lewis said her fight isn’t to scrap the IQ test altogether.
*Some African-American parents may want their child to take the test, and some may not,* she said. *As a parent, I know what’s best for my child — not the courts or the school district.*
Lewis is planning to picket New Haven district offices in a few weeks to raise more awareness about the ruling, she said.
“My son could take that standardized IQ test and get a high score.”