Since 1975 Public Law 94-142, currently known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, has mandated that the decision regarding the placement of a student who is classified as both an English language learner and in need of special education be made collaboratively between parents and individual education plan team members. In reality, however, the voices and judgments of educators and school professionals are valued above those of the parents. The largest emergent bilingual special education population is comprised of Latinx students. Due to cultural factors within the Latinx community, mothers are often tasked as the primary point of contact between the school and the family. However, Spanish-speaking Latinx mothers are often silent at these meetings, never revealing their experiences or feelings as mothers of these children; never expressing how they feel about the role that language and disability plays in their children’s lives, and never voicing how they feel about their children’s program placements. In an attempt to bridge this gap, my dissertation focused on the mothering experiences and ideologies of Latinx Spanish-speaking mothers whose emergent bilingual children are also labeled as disabled.
Given the level of involvement needed during a child’s elementary education, in my dissertation, I conducted an ethnographic study of several Latinx mothers of emergent bilinguals labeled as disabled (EBLADs) in grades two through six within one community. The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences these mothers have endured as well as uncover the values they hold regarding their children’s disability labels, linguistic development and overall education. As such, this project utilized a multipronged theoretical framework rooted in intersectionality, disability studies, linguistic human rights and a sociological approach to storytelling known as Testimonios. This was a qualitative study consisting of Spanish-language interviews with mothers and EBLAD children, home observations and the collection of artifacts related to the child’s educational history. Lastly, the study concluded with a gathering of the participants where they met each other for the first time, shared a recollection, ate dinner together and engaged in open discussions. The resulting data were analyzed using thematic and narrative analysis, and social semiotic multimodal analysis. This study resulted in a greater understanding for the ways in which these mothers contribute to the education of their children in ways that often go unnoticed and unappreciated by educational systems and their proxies.
The findings from this study have implications in early childhood, teacher education and educational policy. This study presents the ways in which this subgroup of mothers supports their children’s academic growth in order to maximize student learning. It also showcases the ways in which linguistic decisions made during the early evaluation stage impact a child’s at-home linguistic development and a parent’s ability to support that child academically. Schools and administrators should also use the findings of this study to reflect on the services they provide to mothers so as to ensure that they meet an actual need (i.e. mental health support, ESL) rather than a projected need (i.e. math training). With regards to teacher education, this study highlights the importance of home language learning for children labeled as disabled in an effort to encourage more bilingual placements, or at least more home language support, for these children. It also presents the ways in which children use linguistic fluidity regardless of the schools’ evaluation on their capacity to be bilingual. Lastly, this study presents the ways in which a research method like descriptive inquiry, which is most often used to understand children and teacher practices, can also be used to understand the impact of educational policies and practices on families within the home and in the community at large.
Aside from the final dissertation, I am also using the data from this study to prepare two papers for presentation at the American Educational Research Association (AERA). The first paper uses raciolinguistics to discuss the racialization of emergent bilingual children in elementary schools. The focus on raciolinguistics is of particular importance given the nationalist, and monoglossic rhetoric that underlies the current anti-immigrant political discourse in the United States. Additionally, children within schools have also reflected this xenophobic rhetoric, which presents a need to discuss the ways in which raciolinguistic-based practices impact EBLADs. This paper presents the understandings that EBLADs have regarding the impact that their monolingual English educations have on their linguistic development and on their ability to receive academic support at home. In addition, possibilities for how these understandings can be explored within the classroom as a part of a social justice curriculum are shared. The second paper focuses on descriptive inquiry as methodology. This paper will present the process of using and implementing a recollection as a methodology as well as the outcome. This paper will also discuss the gains that can be made by using descriptive processes with parents as a way to improve the educational experiences of children.
My next research project will extend on this prior work by attempting to uncover special education and bilingual teacher attitudes regarding the parental involvement of mothers raising EBLADs. In particular, I am interested in how teachers describe parents that they consider disengaged, absent, and even difficult, as well as the evidence that they cite. This project will have both qualitative and quantitative components. The first phase will consist of surveys to be completed by approximately 100 teachers who work with EBLADs. The second phase will make use of narrative interviews and descriptive inquiry practices, like the recollection and observations, in order to contextualize the data gathered from the surveys. Subsequent to this, I plan to engage in discourse analysis in order to identify ways in which educational policies can become vehicles for teacher attitudes and can ultimately serve as forms of gender- and culture-based violence targeting the mothers of EBLADs. Given its potential to impact national education policies for not only EBLADs but also for all emergent bilingual and special education students this project has the potential to receive external funding from sources such as the Institute of Education Sciences and the National Academy of Education. The findings could be presented at both regional and national conferences, while a wider audience would be reached through publications in national and international peer-reviewed journals.
For many years the needs of EBLADs have been parsed across the special education and bilingual education community with neither group wanting to lose students to the other. Special education professionals wrongfully warn about the dangers of bilingual education and EBLADs in a bilingual setting while bilingual education advocates actively seek to keep bilingual children out of special education. While these sentiments originate from real concerns regarding overrepresentation and disproportionality, it is equally as important that the educational community consider the ways in which to improve student outcomes regardless of the placement, regardless of whether the label is appropriate or not. As the demographic make up of the United States continues to shift into a more multicultural, multiracial and multilingual community educators must ensure that their practices meet the needs of children who are placed into multiple minoritized communities. In order to do this successfully, it is not enough to look at academic growth through assessment or even student or teacher feedback. Teaching candidates and pre-service teachers must be taught not only the benefits of open communication but also ways in which to effectively connect with the families of EBLADs. Mothers also need to be invited into the discourse; they must not only be given seats at the table but also microphones to amplify their often-silenced voices. The ultimate goal for my career is to uphold a research agenda and a teaching practice that works in service of these needs.
 The term raciolinguistics is used to discuss the ways in which race and language intersect in order to explore the racialization of people who speak languages other than English.