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Not in My Schoolyard: Disability Discrimination in Educational Access

Posted on 2023-03-02 - 11:08

Disabled people constitute the largest minority group in the United States, and disability discrimination is prohibited under federal law. Nevertheless, disability has received limited attention in the sociology of discrimination. We examine disability discrimination in an important gatekeeping interaction: access to public education. In an audit study of more than 20,000 public schools, we sent emails to principals from fictitious prospective parents asking for a school tour, varying the child’s disability status and gender and the parent’s race. Principals were significantly less likely to respond when the child had a disability, especially when the email came from a Black (rather than White) parent. A survey experiment with 578 principals revealed possible mechanisms. Principals viewed disabled students as more likely to impose a significant burden on schools, but disabled Black students faced an additional disadvantage due to stereotypes of their parents, who were perceived to be less valuable future members of the school community in terms of fundraising, volunteering, and other forms of engagement to support the school. Our results highlight that discrimination against people with disabilities begins long before the labor market and illuminate how the intersection between disability and race shapes inequalities in educational access.

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