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What is the school-to-prison pipeline?

The school-to-prison pipeline has disrupted education for kids of color for decades. It’s a series of policies leading students from school to the legal system. Learn about the pipeline and what parents and teachers can do to end it.

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What is the school-to-prison pipeline? It’s a series of policies that have long targeted kids of color, pulling them out of schools and into the legal system. An expert shares why these practices have gone on for so long, and why we need to fight to end them now.

Listen as Malhar Shah, an education attorney at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund explains: 

  • The school-to-prison pipeline

  • How it impacts school discipline and special education laws 

  • And the role teachers and parents can play in dismantling it

Episode transcript

Julian: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "The Opportunity Gap." Kids of color who have ADHD and other common learning differences often face a double stigma. And there's a lot that families can do to address the opportunity gap in our communities. This podcast explains key issues and offers tips to help you advocate for your child. My name is Julian Saavedra. I'm a father of two and an assistant principal in Philadelphia, where I've spent nearly 20 years working in public schools. I'll be your host. Welcome to Season 3. 

Hey, hey O.G. family! Back in the building. I hope everybody's doing really well. On today's show, we're diving into new territory, and addressing an issue that's long lurked in the shadows of our educational system: the school-to-prison pipeline. We'll be shedding light on the alarming trend that disproportionately funnels students of color with learning and thinking differences from classrooms to correctional facilities. 

And I can say a lot about this and that I experience it myself as an educator, and it's something that we've been wanting to bring to light on our show for a long time. So, joining us for this very important conversation, we have Malhar Shah. Malhar is the education attorney at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, all the way in Berkeley, California. There, his focus is on reforming state-level special education monitoring mechanisms, to ensure school districts throughout the state provide quality services to disabled students. Welcome to the show. Thank you for joining us. 

Malhar: Thanks for having me, Julian. I really appreciate it. 

Julian: Definitely. So, normally we start out a little bit light and during the pre-setup for our show today, we are doing some testing and one of our producers asked Malhar, "Hey, what did you have for breakfast?" And he responded... 

Malhar: I did not have any. 

Julian: My question for you is: if you did eat breakfast and you had a choice of what to eat — if you could do this over again — are you more of like a sweet guy or are you more of a savory guy? What would you prefer for your breakfast treats? 

Malhar: I have such a sweet tooth. I grew up on Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Raisin Bran, which has so much more sugar than anybody thinks it does. 

Julian: Yes, it does

Malhar: So, that's me. Though, I oscillate between the two. I have to have sweet after my savory. 

Julian: Great, great. So, again, we're here today to jump into a topic that both of us have experienced intimately with our own line of work. This episode it's really important because it's the first time for us really exploring and addressing this issue of school-to-prison pipeline. So, let's start at the bottom level, let's start from scratch. Malhar, from your perspective, how would you define the school-to-prison pipeline? 

Malhar: The school-to-prison pipeline describes a series of factors in United States schools and in the communities where these schools are located that, tend to funnel certain students out of the education system and into the criminal legal system. And in particular, students of color, disabled students, and low income students are disproportionately sent into that pipeline. 

Julian: And so, in your experience, what are some of those key factors that contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline even existing in our educational system? 

Malhar: Well, there are two key ones. The first is school discipline policy. Now, this is most directly the cause of the school-to-prison pipeline. For example, you'll have school police on campuses. "School resource officers" is often what they're called. Their very existence creates a, almost criminal legal system on school campuses. 

Similarly, and closely intertwined with the officers' presence in schools is the discipline system itself. The system that punishes students for their behaviors, really for just being themselves in many instances. And a lot of these policies provide teachers, administrators with a lot of discretion for when and for what reason to discipline students. And that incorporates a lot of implicit and explicit racial and disability bias. 

The second contributing factor is undereducation, or just providing no education to students and school districts serving a majority of low-income students of color. Not providing the instruction necessary to give those students the tools they need to succeed and go to college. And of course, the result of this is going to be a disproportionate number of these students dropping out of school. Lacking, understandably, motivation to keep going there were, going to a school where they're not getting any education at all sometimes. And kind of to wrap it all up, you have poor oversight from federal, state, and local governments in these systems. 

Julian: Yeah. I mean, I see it on a day-to-day basis. And as an administrator, you're right. Administrators do have, in some cases, a lot of power to determine what factors might be a consequence for behavioral responses. Really interesting. I want to get deeper into some of the factors you mentioned, specifically the idea, like we just mentioned that school discipline policies. What are some of the potential consequences of these disciplinary measures on a student's future? Right. 

So like, say, a student is constantly being suspended over and over again from a younger age, and then that pattern continues. What are some of the consequences that could come from these types of patterns? 

Malhar: I think the most explicit consequence is — for a student, for example, who is attending a campus where school police are always present — is being arrested on that campus, and the resulting emotional toll on that student and the trauma that that student experiences. And I know that "The Opportunity Gap" has talked about trauma with experts before, but that is really one of the big factors when it comes to effects of the school-to-prison pipeline on all students and in particular students of color and disabled students. 

In addition to that, of course, loss of time in the classroom. To your point of the fact that students are experiencing suspensions and expulsions or being kicked out of class, they're losing access to critical education time. And it's no surprise then, that a lot of these students are forced to drop out because of the inadequate education. 

Sometimes there's really not much difference between being consistently suspended and expelled from your classroom in the school and dropping out. And it's understandable that a student might view it that way, also. And the third thing, of course, is just the loss of support and community from the students' peers, from teachers that they might view as mentors, and the lost job opportunities forcing students into poverty and potentially crime. 

Julian: You are working from the legal standpoint and you see it from that side of things. I'm coming from inside the schools and seeing the things that I see. And I'm wondering, based on your research and the work that you've done, what do you think is a healthy alternative? Because, I will say that I see a lot of things and experience things coming from students that do sometimes require a swift consequence or having safety measures in place. 

What are you thinking is potentially an alternative to try to mitigate some of those issues, while still providing safe spaces that we need to provide for our schools? 

Malhar: Well, the bottom line is keeping kids in school as much as possible. And what's great is that, we actually do know what works for students to keep them in school, regardless of the student in the school community. Those are tools like, really bottom-up, ground-up restorative justice programs, and what is called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). 

These are evidence-based programs and tools that are known to restore community relationships between students when they are broken or they are damaged. And teach students positive behaviors and also address, in many instances, the root causes of student behavior. Showing them ways to engage with community and engage with their class that are healthy. The problem is always that, school districts don't invest enough resources in these programs. They don't train their administrators and their educators sufficiently. 

They actually don't teach students themselves how to engage in restorative justice and positive behavioral interventions and supports. These are tools that need to be baked into the school community. They need to be baked into every single day that a student attends school. 

Julian: And so, again, coming from the school perspective, I do know that many schools in urban districts, they do have funding for PBIS. They are attempting to try to incorporate restorative justice practices. But I'm going to be completely honest, I know that our teachers are stretched to the maximum. And so, I'm wondering what you think. Like, what are some ways that maybe some of these things can get solved? 

Malhar: And they certainly are. And if I can just share a quick anecdote of being in IEP meetings all the time and staring at the face of a teacher who is doing everything she possibly can and asking her about the positive interventions that are written in my client's plans. And the look of fear in her face, because she knows what she's supposed to do and just does not have the time or the energy to do it. 

I think one of the key ways to address this is to hire specialized staff to support teachers. Restorative justice coordinators, folks who can come in and help guide and actually teach students restorative justice skills, that they can then start inputting and using themselves are key. 

So, you're not putting that burden only upon teachers to provide. Student behavioral aides, which are imperative for students with disabilities, or what are called board-certified behavior analysts. These are individuals who are experts in student behavior, especially the behavior of students with disabilities. They understand how to implement these systems. They can help teachers pull in resources and design classrooms in a way that is the most positive, nurturing, and therapeutic. 

So, I think you're exactly right. Teachers have so many burdens put on them, so many demands put on them. There's no way that they can do this all by themselves. And to that point, school districts, states need to ensure that schools have the budget to hire as many folks as they can to provide these services, and ensure that the policies are there to ensure that these students are actually getting them day in and day out. 

Julian: I'm just throwing things out there, because I know I was in three different IEP meetings today. And we talked explicitly about writing in PBIS support into positive behavior plans, and just thinking about all the things that are encompassed in providing services for students at the school level. But the reality is that, a lot of these students that we're talking about, we're talking about not only racial bias that comes into play — which is a historical system that the entire country is built on — but we're also talking about socioeconomic stratification, that provides barriers, like intensive barriers. 

And so, the lack of funding is a giant barrier for school districts around the country, servicing students of color. So, we talked a lot about the schools. What about the legal system? Like, is there ways that, that can intervene to support rights and opportunities? 

Malhar: Well, I can speak for my perspective as a special education attorney. All of my work is focused on students with disabilities. What I know is that, generally, legal protections tend to be weak. They differ from state to state. And for students without disabilities, there is a lot of discretion that schools have to punish students for the behaviors they deem are violative of school rules. There is a lot of discretion for schools, in general, to not invest in the resources that they need and for states to not help out the school districts that have the lack of funding. 

What I would say, though, is that the strongest protections — the strongest legal protections — come actually from a lot of disability law. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (the IDEA,) and the Americans with Disabilities Act, (the ADA,) are incredibly strong anti-discrimination statutes in the United States, and they apply to all public school districts. 

Some examples of ways in which they actually protect students is, students with disabilities — students with IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) — can't be excluded from school for more than ten days out of a school year if their disability is causing their behavior. 

These students are required to receive behavioral supports and accommodations that are based in PBIS, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. So, a lot of our cases focus on enforcing these requirements. Getting the state of California to help school districts provide the funding necessary so they can invest in these projects and ensuring the school district is using and enacting policies that ensures that these programs are actually provided on the ground. 

Julian: Right. And I appreciate that you shared the federal laws that really oversee all of the things that should be put in place. No matter what state you're in, IDEA is really the law of the land. And so, that is going to be the biggest safeguard that parents and families and students have against school districts not providing the appropriate support. Especially if special education services have been deemed necessary for that student. 

I want to hear more about you. You know, we're talking about like the legal standpoints. You've given us a really clear idea as to how the school-to-prison pipeline has been created and what it is and what factors are involved. But I know just from your own experience, I think it's really fascinating with the work that you've done. So, I'd love for you to take some time just to tell our audience a little bit about you and what you do, and how you've been a change agent in the state of California. 

Malhar: I appreciate that. I came to this work because I, myself, growing up from a very privileged background of attending private schools, experienced a lot of trauma in my life. I also have experienced a lot of grief, loss of family members, and I also have OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder.) And so, I've had at least some experiences with understanding how mental illness interacts with schools and the lack of support in schools. And a lot of my work at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, DREDF we call it for short ...

Julian: It's a mouthful.

Malhar: Exactly, it's what I tell everybody sometimes. The work that we do is specifically intended to ensure that school districts are providing students with disabilities the education they deserve. And it usually falls along two lines. One is that we try to get school police out of schools and get school districts generally to stop using restraints, harmful physical and mechanical restraints on students with disabilities and in particular students of color. And even in more particular, black students with disabilities who are the most heavily affected by those policies. 

We also try to get the state in various school districts really throughout the country to adopt evidence-based ways of teaching kids how to read. We really do have a language literacy crisis throughout the country. And in California especially, we're using outdated ways of teaching kids how to read and not training a lot of teachers on how to actually appropriately provide that instruction. And of course, both of those are going to lead to the school-to-prison pipeline. 

We — as an example of the school police case — we recently had a victory in a lawsuit against a school district in Southern California, called the Moreno Valley Unified School District. Which was essentially giving their teachers and administrators so much discretion to refer students with disabilities to law enforcement for their disability-related behaviors. 

And as a result, students with disabilities were being referred to law enforcement and restrained and handcuffed at a rate as high as almost nine times the rate of their non-disabled peers. 

Black students with disabilities were being disproportionately restrained compared to non-black students with disabilities. And so, that's some of the work that we do. And really where I come, how I come to it. 

Julian: Well, number one, thank you. Thank you for choosing to take on this fight because it's such a necessary fight. And I use the word fight because that's what it is. Like, it's not something that goes away easily. And so I'm interested to know, from the case that you mentioned regarding the specific school districts in Southern California, where you all won the case. Can you walk us through, how did it start? Like where was the initial entry point into that happening? 

And I ask that because I know, many of our listeners may not be in California, but they may be experiencing this in their own state. And they may want to be interested in knowing, like, where do I start If I notice some of these things happening in my own school district or with my own child? And I'm wondering, where does it start? How do I get myself involved with something like this? 

Malhar: That's an excellent question and actually does lead me to a resource that I wanted to share, which are contacting your local P&A. These are organizations in the United States that are dedicated to ensuring public entities are complying with the law. We actually started on this case against the Moreno Valley Unified School District through our co-counsel, the Disability Rights California, which is a P&A. They were representing a client. 

The plaintiff in the lawsuit, his initials are CB, his name is anonymous in the public record. He is a black student with disabilities. He, at the age of ten — standing at about 70 pounds, four foot eight — was restrained in handcuffs by school police, four different times in the course of four months. That's how we started this case. The case was really on behalf of him, to get him some relief for himself. Get him access to the many years of therapy that he's going to need, the trauma-sensitive therapy that he's going to need. But in addition, to change the policies at the school district. 

So, the victory that we received was on behalf of all students with disabilities. And we're still continuing on with his individual case against the individual officers and the school district, coming up in a trial. But generally, these organizations like Disability Rights California, there are so many that you can find if you just look up your local P&A, you can do an Internet search for that. 

And I just highly recommend tapping into their network, reaching out to them when you're seeing something. A lot of them have excellent advocates. A lot of them may not be attorneys, they can actually help parents understand what ways they can advocate for their own kids. 

Julian: I'm wondering from you know — and this is more like a big picture question — thinking about bigger policy change. What do you think are some bigger policy changes that need to be put in place to start alleviating this massive school-to-prison pipeline that needs to be dismantled? What do you think we can do? 

Malhar: On the one hand, getting rid of school police would be a really great start. You can't have positive environments, nurturing therapeutic environment, school environments with police existing there. And the problem is often that school districts will often start to rely on school police instead of providing Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support, sort of restorative justice programs, when they know they can just rely on police to come in and take a student away or arrest a student and not really get rid of a problem, just what they think is solve the problem. 

So, you mentioned also the idea of, the need to fund school districts better to ensure that they are actually getting the resources that they need. One thing I can say is that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the IDEA, the federal law, has never been fully funded by Congress. And so, states are making up that lack of funding through their own resources and of course, there are funding problems at state levels. 

Another really great policy change that we are focusing on is getting states to implement really high quality monitoring mechanisms. A lot of states like California will tend to defer to school districts' own assessment of what they need to do to change their education system when they identify, for example, in their data that they are disproportionately disciplining black students or black students with disabilities. They essentially throw their hands up, give them some paper and say, “Here, fill out these forms.” 

I'm oversimplifying it to some degree, but I'm not being too hyperbolic when I say that they're pretty much telling districts to solve their own problems. So, a lot of what we look for is for the state departments of education to be fully resourced, to come in, to put boots on the ground. To actually come in and observe and teach and have conversations with teachers and administrators about how they can fix their policy. 

Julian: From my standpoint, coming from, you know, I'm in the schools every day and I serve an underfunded school district in a primarily black and brown demographic. I think the one thing that always comes back to me is just poverty. Like really poverty, and entrenched poverty, generational poverty is something that impacts every facet of a child's life. And so, I'm wondering on the larger level — in tandem with schools, in tandem with the legal system — do you think it's possible to make any substantial impact without addressing the idea of generational poverty? 

Malhar: No, I don't. I really don't. The United States education system, the various states' educational systems, are built on the foundation of wealth inequality, of income inequality. And we live in a capitalist country. And that means that there will inevitably be folks who don't actually get what they should be getting when it comes to access to education. So, tackling the idea of systemic discrimination requires alleviating and actually transferring resources. 

School districts can't afford that expert who can actually come in. And, experts cost a lot of money to come in and really teach administrators how they can reform their programs. What policies and procedures they need to be implementing every day, and monitoring and providing technical assistance. 

And it goes down to the granular level of a parent who is low income, who might be, for example, working multiple jobs and not always is going to have the time and the energy to actually be able to advocate for their child. And they shouldn't be required to do that. The fact that they have to work multiple jobs, pay for daycare, go to IEP meetings where they are going to be invalidated a lot of times by the school district itself is appalling. 

Julian: But you did say like, the granular level. So, let's bring it back down to the level of, let's think about three specific groups: educators, administrators — like school administrators — and parents or parenting adults or guardians, any adult that's an advocate for a child. Those three groups. In your opinion, what specific role do they play? Each of them — you know, educators, administrators, parenting adults — in addressing and preventing the school-to-prison pipeline. 

Malhar: I love talking to teachers and administrators because they provide us this insight, this lens into what's happening day-to-day in a school district, that I don't otherwise get. Teachers and administrators have an ability, if they can, to really press on the pressure points of a school district. If they are able to band together and push on changes to policies — changes to instructional modes that they want to see at a school district — that is one incredible way in which you can shift the school-to-prison pipeline that includes pushing for different kinds of training. 

I've represented teachers in school districts who know that their kids with disabilities and kids of color are being deprived of evidence-based instruction and pushed on the school district to get them to go to trainings. Pay for them to go to trainings that will teach them how to teach these kids how to read. 

There is a great resource out there that I actually recommend to a lot of teachers who are questioning how to change their school environment. And it's a book called "Helping Traumatized Children Learn." It's available online. You can Google it, it's free. You can just download a copy. 

Part two of the book is a guide for teachers and parents and administrators for shifting the culture of a school. How to ask the questions, how to pool resources and get access to the resources in your school, in your school district to make it a trauma-sensitive therapeutic environment. That's one of the key ways that I would say administrators and teachers can work together in shifting that culture. 

Julian: Really good stuff. So, what about our parenting adults? What do you think from their perspective? What can they do to support and address the school-to-prison pipeline? 

Malhar: Really, I think knowledge is power in many of these instances. Especially if you have a student with a disability. These are students who have a variety of legal rights. So, parents being able to get tapped into, being able to tap into education resources. Resources that teach them how to advocate for their children are critical. 

There are, throughout the country, Parent Training and Information Centers. These are centers that are actually funded by the IDEA. My organization, DREDF, actually runs a Parent Training and Information Center, and they have non-attorney advocates who — many of them have their own kids with disabilities and have navigated, for example, just the IEP system — they, not only tell parents what their rights are, but they actually teach them the advocacy skills they need. If they go to an IEP meeting, they teach parents what kinds of things they can say that actually get at the legal rights they have. 

And parent groups, I've seen be really successful in various communities. Parents who want to teach other parents how to navigate their education system, and using those kind of groups to also develop relationships with teachers and administrators. The one thing that I left out about that book is that, it's not just about teachers and administrators creating a trauma-sensitive environment. It's working together with parents and community members to put pressure on school districts at school board meetings. That's just one example. 

But these are resources that I think can really help out parents getting as much information as you can about what specific legal rights your child has. Because, oftentimes what you'll see is a school district administration at the highest level will bank on parents — my apologies —not knowing what their legal rights are and kind of walk all over them at times when they feel like they can. 

Julian: I'm wondering, you know, the one group that we've left out — and arguably the most important member of the group are — the students themselves. And so I'm wondering, have you had a chance to work with students to also be a part of this process and trying to prevent the school-to-prison pipeline? 

Malhar: I work with students a lot through parents, but in the interactions that I've had with students, they themselves have a lot of ability to question systems, to question just really the way school rules are being implemented day-to-day and just present a lot of really important questions to administrators. I think when I talked earlier about restorative justice. 

Restorative justice is something that I will see a school district implement from a top-down level. They'll discipline a student first, and then they'll come into a class and say, "All right, the two of you talk. Once you've talked, we're going to create a no contact contract where you just don't talk ever again. And if you don't, you get punished even more for it." These are situations where the right restorative justice programs are being initiated...restorative justice circles are being initiated by students to solve and repair harm. 

Now, of course, students need the tools, need to understand how to do that. But, being educated about things like that, about restorative justice and the way it actually works — the way it's actually meant to restore harm and repair damage done between different members of the community — that is really important. 

Julian: It's interesting because I know that that is something that is a mindset shift for a lot of people. Like, the idea that behavior A equates to consequence B. That really cut and dry "If you do this, then this happens," versus looking at the individual and looking at the individualized action and then making a determination in the moment of what can we do together and what do we do next? How can we restore the harm and not just dole out an immediate consequence? 

And that really is a big mindset shift. I can say that there's been many times where I've had teachers say "This deserves a suspension or this deserves a consequence." And we have to have a conversation about, well, why? Is that really going to do anything? Where's the learning in this? And so, what is more important is to sit down together with the adult and the student, with somebody that's trusted. And let's figure out how we can work this out. What can we do to fix this? 

I had a student today, actually, he has an IEP for emotional support services. And so, he was really upset because he wanted to go do some work with his case manager, and the teacher wanted to give him a little bit of time to get the work done first before he went. And that wasn't computing for him, because he wanted to make sure his work needed to get done at that point. But, we know that students with emotional support services sometimes struggle to manage their emotions. Like, we know that. 

And so, he got up and he walked out the door and he slammed the door. And as he slammed the door, part of the glass and the door cracked. And everybody saw it, the teacher, the students, everybody had a chance in that moment to decide what are they going to do. And so, the teacher did a really great job of choosing to not react. She clued me into it, and I know this student. I've known him for a long time. I know that he's experienced tons of trauma and everything that you've named today about the demographic, he fits that bill. 

We took some walks around the building and then once we were calm, we sat back down and he said, "Mr. Saavedra, am I getting suspended for this?" And I asked, "Do you think you need to get suspended for this?" "Yeah, I think so." "Why?" "Because I messed up." "Well, yes, you did make a mistake, but it doesn't mean you need to be out of school. I love that you were motivated to do your work. I want us to work on your reaction. So, let's figure out what are we going to do to fix this? So, we're going to figure out a way together to work off some of the debt that you owe for breaking the thing that you broke."

And he's like, "Well, you mean I'm not getting suspended?" "No, no, no, no. You're going to be right here in school with me, and we're going to work this out, and you're going to make sure that you apologize." And he's like, "Of course, I'm gonna make sure I apologize. I messed up." "And then we're going to work together and figure out what to do." And in that moment, the decision was helping him reflect on his own action. Helping him understand that in society, when you do something that is a mistake you have to do something to fix it. 

And so, that's where I think the idea of restoration — and especially for our students with learning and thinking differences — the idea of restoration and the reflection that comes with that, it's not something that's ridiculously difficult, but it's something that has to be proactive and it has to be something that every adult that works with the child, especially a child with special education services, they have to be thinking about constantly. How am I modeling the idea of restoration? How am I figuring out how to help them fix the harm? 

Malhar: It really, I mean, it sounds like a lot of what you're talking about is aligning with the value of self-determination and critical thinking for these students. To your point, not just thinking that behavior A is going to lead to consequence B. But that the group process where the student participates, fights those paternalistic decisions that are made for the student. Disabled students, like all students, deserve the chance to mess up, to fail. And we call this "dignity of risk," which people with disabilities are so often denied. 

So, the fact that you're giving, you're presenting this opportunity for the student to mess up, to fail, to learn from that mistake, to become a critical thinker in this moment is exactly what we want for our students. We want them to critique systems. We want them to critique and walk around with a very critical lens, while at the same time figuring out how they can mesh as best they can, how they can work and build community with their peers. 

Julian: Yeah. In the school, while we are having some time together, this is our time to make mistakes, so that we learn how to fix them. Because you might not get chances like this out there. And so, I love that you're bringing that up too from a legal standpoint. It's imperative that we empower everybody involved: parents, teachers, administrators, and especially students, to have the knowledge they need to be successful. 

Malhar, I can sit and talk to you all day long about this. It is fascinating to bring this conversation up, because it's just something that is so necessary. And I know we're going to continue talking about this on "The Opportunity Gap," because we know that it's a problem that has not gone away. And in fact, it's accelerated. The school-to-prison pipeline has accelerated more so than ever. And so, I'd love to meet somebody that is on the front lines, doing the work to support our students in California and nationwide. 

And so, I appreciate you for taking some time to talk to us. I appreciate you for being so candid. I can tell that you are passionate about the work that you do. So, I just want to say thank you. I appreciate you. 

Malhar: Thank you for having me on. I so appreciate the time to talk about this. I could also go on and on about this for days. I can come and be your co-host, if you like, for the next few episodes... 

Julian: We shall see, we shall see. Talk to the producers about that. Listeners, before we go, I'd like to share a few resources with all of you. All are recommended by Malhar. As always, we like to link them in the show notes. First, learn more about the important work Malhar and the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund are doing. Next up, find the Protection and Advocacy agency (P&A) in your state or territory. Finally, find the Parent Training and Information Centers (PTIs) in your state or territory. Until next time, listeners talk to you all soon. Thank you. 

"The Opportunity Gap" is produced by Tara Drinks, edited by Cin Pim. Ilana Millner is our production director. Our theme music was written by Justin D. Wright, who also mixes the show for the Understood Podcast Network. Laura Key is our editorial director, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, and Seth Melnick is our executive producer. Thanks for listening and see you next time. 


  • Julian Saavedra, MA

    is a school administrator who has spent 15 years teaching in urban settings, focusing on social-emotional awareness, cultural and ethnic diversity, and experiential learning.

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    • April 10, 2024

      Social media and toxic myths about ADHD

      Myths and misinformation about ADHD and learning differences show up all the time on social media. Find out whats fact and whats fiction, and learn about the impact of these myths on kids of color.

    • March 27, 2024

      Growing up with ADHD: An interview with René Brooks

      ADHD advocate René Brooks was diagnosed with ADHD twice as a child. But it wasn’t until she was diagnosed again as an adult that she finally got support. Listen to her story.

    • March 13, 2024

      Understanding the IEP process

      Learn about the steps to getting an IEP and starting your child’s special education program. Get tips from an expert.

    • February 14, 2024

      Diverse impact: Champions of change at Understood

      Learn how four members of the Understood team are making an impact in the lives of people with learning and thinking differences.

    • January 31, 2024

      Preparing kids for life after high school

      How can high-schoolers and their families prepare for life after high school? Get advice and tips from a college advisor.

    • January 17, 2024

      How to get kids to talk about school

      Some kids don’t like to share information about their school day. Get tips on how to get them to open up and share. These tips and conversation starters can help your child to open up.

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