Zaughna Henry has three children, Jamal-Malcolm, 18, Osiris, 2, and Zion, 12. Zion suffers from epilepsy, Klienfelter syndrome, global developmental delays, sickle cell anemia, multiple orthopedic disabilities and asthma. His disabilities impact his ability to participate in his school’s general education program and he needs special education services.
Zion loves listening to Beyoncé and watching Bollywood videos, as well as Japanese and Korean television shows. He is nonverbal and his communication skills are severely delayed; he is unable to use words to express his wants or needs. Further, his epilepsy seizures are triggered by additional stressors, such as extreme changes in his environment. He needs an adult to administer his seizure medication and to recognize and provide first aid during and after seizures. He needs assistance with feeding, mobility and toileting needs as well as an adult to push his wheelchair to access the campus.
Due to his disabilities, Zion was denied access to school in the Los Angeles Unified School District even though it was against the law for the district to do so. Each and every time his mother tried to enroll him, she was told that the school did not have a program for children in wheelchairs with disabilities. When she was able to enroll him, Zion would come home soiled and his academic progress was deteriorating.
Sadly, it is all too common for nonwhite students to be left behind by the special education system.
The Hechinger Report
analyzed federal data and found a "stark racial gap between different groups of special education students. Nationally, 76 percent of white students in special education...earned a traditional diploma. That falls to 65 percent for Hispanic students and 62 percent for black students..." Beyond graduation, race and racism can be a part of why students like Zion are left to fail. "Not only are nonwhite students more likely to be assigned to lower-resourced schools that struggle to provide them with the services they are entitled to, but navigating the special education system often presents unique challenges for parents of color," say experts according to The Hechinger Report.
Eventually, Zaughna’s counselor at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles referred her to Learning Rights. Learning Rights advocated on Zion’s behalf on numerous occasions and was able to obtain proper services for him, including access to classes. Zaughna explains: “I would absolutely achieve nothing for my Zion, had it not been for Learning Rights who became a power drill, knocking down walls to the services my boy needed to thrive!”