The U.S. educational system leaves a lot to be desired, especially for disabled students. I grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland which is an affluent, predominately Black county, but is lacking in resources—educational, economic and domestic—due to institutionalized racism. Students of color, especially disabled students of color, are more likely to have more inadequate schools and educational resources than white students, and Black and Latinx students, especially those who are disabled, are more likely to be sent to prison sometime in their life than white students.
In 2015, Kayleb Moon-Robinson a Black, autistic sixth-grader from Virginia, was charged with disorderly conduct and felony assault for simply kicking over a trash can at school and trying to get away from a school resource officer. The charges were dropped a year later, but this incident sheds a light on a problem that’s going on in this country: the systemic acts of violence toward disabled students of color in The United States.
When I think about what happened to Kayleb, what comes to mind is that the same thing could’ve happened to me when I was in middle school. When I was about 12, I was just starting middle school, and I was having an extremely difficult time adjusting to the expectations of the curriculum. Also, I didn’t get to see my friends that much because they were all in different classes, even different recess periods than I was, so that made my first year of middle school a living hell. I asked to be in the same classroom and recess period as my friends, but the school said no because those classrooms were too “easy” for me.
Because I was so frustrated with the way the middle school curriculum was set up, I took my frustrations out on many of my teachers. I screamed, threatened them and cursed at them because I felt like they weren’t listening to me. I had many difficult days in my first year of middle school. One time, I got so angry I threatened to throw a chair at one of my teachers, and my school counselor said that if I did that then they were going to call the police and have me arrested.
Granted, there were other ways I could’ve handled the situation, but I was in extreme stress, so I didn’t think of my coping strategies back then. Now that I think about it, I really believe that because I was a Black student, and because I was an autistic Black student, the educational system was automatically set up for me to fail, and it’s set up for kids like Kayleb to fail as well.
That wasn’t the first time I was placed in a situation that I had no or very little control over. When I was in first grade, I had a very mean teacher, and in the school I was in at the time, the fire alarm went off almost every day—and it was a buzzer, which made things so much worse for me because I cannot stand buzzing noises. One day, the fire alarm went off again, and I covered my ears as we were leaving the building. My teacher uncovered my ears and yelled, “Hands down!” She didn’t care that I had a sensitivity to loud noises.
I still had to attend that school in second grade too, and the fire alarm was still going off nearly every day. I could actually predict what day it was going to go off—I kid you not. And my second grade teacher wasn’t that sympathetic either. She gave me cotton balls to put in my ears in an attempt to block out the noise. Cotton balls. They didn’t block out the noise at all.
The principal of the school said that the fire alarm was broken and that they couldn’t do anything about it, but I think that’s bull. I think she was trying to “desensitize” us to the noise of the fire alarm so we’d get used to it.
The educational system is supposed to cater to all students, regardless of disability, race, zip code, etc. They’re supposed to help us not just survive in school, but thrive, and they’re not doing that. They’re forcing students who don’t fit the mold of the white, abled student from a majority-white, upper-class jurisdiction to adhere to the standards of that mold, and that’s not right.