Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Education (Ph.D)


Administrative and Instructional Leadership

First Advisor

Rene Parmar

Second Advisor

Catherine DiMartino

Third Advisor

Rebecca Louick


Federal law states that any student suspected of having a disability must meet initial eligibility requirements to qualify for special education services. Furthermore, an individual education program (IEP) team is required by federal law to re-evaluate each student with a qualified disability tri-annually to assess his or her ongoing need for such services. The pathway toward initial eligibility is explicitly outlined within federal legislation; however, the law does not explicate an avenue for declassification or exiting from special education. As a result, many students may remain in special education and are labeled as students with a disability when they may no longer require the specialized instruction or related services provided through special education. The reality is that special education has evolved into a trapdoor, not a doorway to opportunity - as it was intended to be (Maydosz, 2014).

The purpose of this phenomenological study was to examine the extent to which, if at all, the perceptions/attitudes of members of the committee on special education (CSE) and the subcommittee of special education (SCSE) about race and ability influence decision making and declassification during the special education process. The study examined whether a relationship existed between perceptions of race and ability and the disproportionate declassification rates in an urban school district. The study explored this phenomenon through a conceptual framework that synthesizes Ladson-Billings’ (2007) four forms of educational debt (economic, historical, sociopolitical, and moral) that have accumulated over time and negatively impact students of color. The conceptual framework s¬¬erved as a foundation for and framed the theoretical framework's discussion, which is Connor, Ferri, and Annamma’s (2016) Dis/ability Critical Race Studies in Education (DisCrit).

The researcher conducted one-on-one, in-depth, and semi-structured virtual interviews with five administrators (principals and assistant principals), seven general education teachers, three special education department chairs, four general education teachers, and one school counselor. The research questions helped reveal their lived experiences. Findings suggest that among CSE members, there are (a) mixed perceptions and attitudes toward declassification, (b) variances in the understanding of the declassification and special education process, and (c) a myriad of experiences, biases, and perceptions about race and ability exist that may influence declassification, as well as (d) an understanding that multiple factors influence declassification, (e) the belief that declassification is rare, (f) an understanding that multiple factors influence declassification, (g) an emphasis on mainstreaming within the urban school district, and (h) an acceptance that barriers exist that prevent educational stakeholders from accurately assessing students’ abilities.