As is clear, the foundations of how we understand “disability” today are rooted in racist and eugenicist ideology, which has real, material consequences on students who are classified as “disabled”. In Fairfax County, the development of special education programs and schools co-occurs with desegregation and white Virginian’s persistence and determination to remain segregated and prevent liberation. As my professor Dr. Manuel-Scott asked me when I began this project, “What does this near-simultaneous evolution of desegregated schools and SPED programs tell us about the ‘worthiness’ of some children to receive an equitable education?”


Put bluntly, students who do not fit into the white eurocentric standard of “intelligence” and “ability” are consistently viewed as unworthy of even an adequate education. Prior to desegregation, whites actively worked to prevent Black people from obtaining any kind of success, whether that be material, educational, or other, and this did not change at all with the passing of Brown v. Board of Education I and II. Black, Indigenous, brown, and migrant children are automatically seen as less intelligent than their white counterparts because of their distance from whiteness, and the same rings true for disabled versus abled children. Considering how disability itself was created in direct correlation to enslaved people’s ability to produce economic value and how this translates through to today, coupled with the research from this project, it is safe to say that children who do not fit into the white American standard of “normal” experience a palpable “decrease” in their value to society, and in an instant, they are deemed unworthy of the same kind of education, care, and attention as other children. Not only are these young people viewed as unworthy of equitable education and incapable of their own kinds of intelligence, but they are also often classified as “problem children” that “no one wants to deal with”, which becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, especially when these students are constantly and consistently threatened with different forms of imprisonment and punishment for being themselves.


Future directions for this project include (but are not limited to) expanding the volume of schools examined in Fairfax County, mapping the locations (and changing locations) of Black and disabled schools throughout the 20th century, examining school curricula and programming for Black students versus students with disabilities, broadening the research scope of students classified as gifted versus mentally disabled, investigating current-day special education programs, and looking into the connections between policing, disability, and education; specifically, how students with disabilities and racialized students are introduced to criminalization early on in life, which may have a direct correlation to the school-to-prison pipeline.


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