Accessing services for children with special needs is complex and challenging for even U.S.-born parents. Is it even more difficult for immigrant parents, and what are the consequences for their children? This article reports on a mixed methods approach to examining the access of immigrants’ children to special education and inclusive placement. A multivariate analysis of Massachusetts education data finds that children of immigrants are significantly less likely than children of U.S.-born parents to participate in special education. It also finds that among children who do participate in special education, children of immigrants are more likely to be in substantially separate settings, and less likely to be in inclusive settings, than are children of U.S.-born parents. A companion case study of a Massachusetts elementary school seeks to understand these results in ways that suggest policies and practices to address these inequities and improve schools’ response to children with special needs.

Plain Language Summary

This study asks if the special education program in Massachusetts is equal for young children of immigrants. The study looks at how often grade K-5 students in Massachusetts receive special education and where they are placed. It finds that young children of immigrants do not receive special education as often as children with parents born in the U.S. It also finds that the children of immigrants who get special education are less often in classes with students who do not have disabilities. They are more often in separate classrooms. A case study of one Massachusetts public elementary school seeks to understand why. It looks at experiences of immigrant parents trying to help their children at school, how school staff work with each other and with parents, and at public policies that affect education and immigrants. Results suggest ways to make special education more equal for young children of immigrants with special needs.

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