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Duval County Working to Narrow Racial Gap For Gifted, EBD Students

Travis Ekmark

A disproportionately high number of Duval County’s black students are diagnosed with an emotional and behavioral disorder, and too few of them are considered gifted — that’s according to figures presented Tuesday at a school board workshop.

The district is working to narrow the large racial gaps.

Last year, 44 percent of district students were African-American and 36 percent were white, yet far more white students were labeled “gifted.” That meant about 950 black students were gifted, compared with 3,300 white students.

“In many ways I think it started with saying that there’s a problem,” Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said.

However, this is an improvement from two years ago. Nearly 2,800 white students and 600 black students were labeled gifted.

Credit Duval County Public Schools

Vitti said the numbers are improving because the district has been using different methods to identify gifted students than what’s standard, which was "usually by the parent or teacher referral process,” he said.

Now the district is telling principals about the racial discrepancy, and to test more high-performing students. It’s also been using state guidelines called “Plan B” that allow students on the free and reduced lunch program to qualify as gifted with a slightly lower score.

Vitti said for the first time, all second graders will be screened next year.

While fewer students overall are diagnosed with an emotional and behavioral disorder, black students are still diagnosed at double the rate of white students: 255 white students compared to 511 black students. 

When kids get the EBD label by a psychologist, they’re normally put in a special, small class. Vitti said  a disorder diagnosis doesn’t mean the child isn’t intelligent, but it might be a self-fulfilling prophecy for the student.

Credit Duval County Public Schools

“What often happens is when you’re labeled as EBD it comes with the stereotype that you can’t function at grade level  or beyond,” he said.

Moving forward, he said schools have to exhaust every intervention option before labeling the student.

“So that we’re not identifying students as EBD because individuals at the school want that child to be identified as EBD and honestly that has historically happened nationally,” Vitti said.

He said only after no improvement, a psychologist will become involved to test if the child has an EBD.

“Is this consistent in all classes or is it just one teacher?” Vitti said. “Has there been an opportunity for the student and the parent to reflect on their behavior to improve it?”

Photoused under Creative Commons

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.