Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Susan Semel

Subject Categories

Teacher Education and Professional Development


Emotional Disturbance, Special Education Referrals, Intersectionality


Black male students, when compared to the total Special Education population, are disproportionately placed under the Emotional Disturbance category. Special Education evaluations, referred by general education teachers, lead to most Special Education placement (UFT, n.d.; Smeets & Roeleveld, 2016; & Woodson & Harris, 2018). This study was qualitative research via narrative inquiry. Two research questions investigated teacher participant responses to fictional vignettes and interviews: (1) Is the intersection of social identities of BMS, such as race, gender, and SES, responsible for how general education teachers respond to disruptive behaviors identical to externalizing ED traits in the classroom; and (2) Is it more likely for general education teachers to refer Black male students, regardless of socioeconomic status, than White male students with low- socioeconomic status for Special Education evaluation?

The vignettes used in this study encompassed three male students, aged 11, exhibiting academic and behavioral challenges identical to the externalizing behavioral traits for Emotional Disturbance in a general education classroom. The dependent variable was gender- male. The independent variables were race (Black or White) and socioeconomic status (low or middle). Findings show that Special Education evaluation referrals by general education teachers increase if students are Black, male, and have low-socioeconomic status. Black male students’ academic and behavioral challenges in general education classrooms eventually place them in Special Education for Emotional Disturbance.

Key Words: Emotional Disturbance, Special Education Referrals, Intersectionality