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Teacher Negotiations of Race, Language, and Disability in an Inclusive Bilingual School

Sat, April 18, 12:25 to 1:55pm, Virtual Room


This study centers on the workings of an inclusive bilingual school, which addresses what Cioè-Peña (2017) calls an intersectional gap, in which existing educational structures and institutions falter in meeting the needs of bilingual students with disabilities. In examining the workings of a bilingual special education setting, this paper outlines the challenges and affordances of including bilingual students with disabilities in bilingual programming, and how and what language ideologies circulate pertaining to the intersection of race, language, and disability.

Theoretical Framework
This paper uses DisCrit and raciolinguistic ideologies (Annamma, Connor, & Ferri, 2013; Flores & Rosa, 2015) to understand how student language practices are being understood in an inclusive bilingual setting, especially in consideration of the structures and systems in place that create and reify normative ideas about language related to race and disability. Through the lens of teachers and other service providers as inhabiting a normative white perceiving subject (Rosa & Flores, 2017) due to their institutional positions, this paper also highlights how teachers simultaneously reiterate and resist normative schooling practices.

This paper draws from a year-long ethnographic study at a racially-segregated inclusive bilingual charter school in a large city in the Northeastern U.S. The focal participants were members of the fourth grade team, which included five teachers: bilingual, Spanish, English, special education, and English as a Second Language. Methods included participant observation in and out of classrooms, interviews with teachers and administrators, and document collection.

Bilingual staff, like psychologists and teachers, allow for a more comprehensive understanding of language proficiency for students in bilingual settings related to their academic performance. Even so, ableist structures of schooling still inform how teachers perceive students’ language proficiencies and abilities, particularly through ranking abilities and conflating literacy scores with intelligence. These structures included various forms of standardized testing and a service delivery model that compartmentalizes students’ needs as opposed to holistic approaches to students’ needs (e.g., Kangas, 2018). This appears in a reification of the medical model of disability, with students who are so-called low in one language deemed to have a language problem, while students who supposedly low in both languages have a disability. Educators at this school also often avoided discussing race and disability, preferring instead to discuss ethnicity instead of race and using other social categories, like geographic location, to imply race and disability.

Scholarly Significance
A DisCrit and raciolinguistic approach avoids taking categories of learners for granted and instead emphasizes the processes by which these institutionalized identities become sedimented, and how ableism and racism operate through language. While bilingual special education programming and bilingual personnel allow for a more comprehensive evaluation of students’ linguistic practices, they still operate under ableist and racist structures of schooling. This paper explores a manifestation of this phenomena in order to examine special education as an institution and to challenge normative ways of understanding the intersection of race, language, and disability.

Word Count (including title): 493