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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Steven Camicia


In this dissertation, I explore, through qualitative means, the perceptions of parents related to discourse (what is said and not said) within formalized and required processes of special education. These processes are federal requirements that parents of children with disabilities or suspected disabilities encounter as their children progress through the school system. The processes purportedly protect the rights of children with disabilities. The goal of the process is to help children with disabilities make academic gains by providing scaffolds that meet their individual needs.

During this process, parents of children with disabilities become empowered or disempowered by discourses focused on eligibility for special education services and Individualized Education Plans. These discourses may serve to privilege, empower, disempower, alienate and marginalize, or unite and value. I critically examine instances of this discourse to support and empower parents concerning instances of negatively framed discourse and to assist administrators, professionals, and teachers. My goal is to help these individuals understand how parents perceive the discourse within this framework. I aim to lessen instances of alienation, marginalization, and power inequities that parents repeatedly encounter through education.

This study involves 15 survey participants and 14 remaining case-study participants who have or have had children with disabilities go through the special education process from five separate school systems within the Western U.S. I utilize a survey covering perceptions and attitudes about formalized special education processes along with open-ended, semi-structured interviews for case-study analysis. Participants discussed inequities and inequalities such as a perceived lack of power and voice. They referred to lost dignity for themselves and their children with disabilities and high levels of frustration due to poor communication and follow-through. Participants perceived successful interactions from persistent effort, advocacy, and self-education on special education law, procedure, and the disabilities of their children. I provide participant summary perceptions and desires regarding the special education process. I present two models of special education discourse derived from grounded theory and discuss my results regarding models of disability, a school-equity-improvement model, an ethical framework, and I argue for a call to action to begin the groundwork for positive, lasting change.



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