No More Black and Brown Children in Cages: The Reality of Racism and Ableism in SPS Today

by Families of Color Seattle (FOCS)

We are horrified and deeply saddened by the latest news uncovering the egregious treatment of a Black student at View Ridge Elementary School. As recently reported by KUOW, a Black second-grader named Jaleel at View Ridge Elementary School was locked up in an outdoor cage without a table or chair, multiple times, left to eat his lunch off the tray on the ground. Adult school staff, entrusted to teach and keep Jaleel safe, decided instead that putting him repeatedly (sometimes for the entire school day) in a fenced outdoor space dubbed “the cage” was an appropriate restraint for a second-grader.

It is without a doubt that the school and the district failed to protect Jaleel. And, painfully, the larger school community failed him too. His schoolmates and some of their parents saw Jaleel repeatedly in the cage and got the explicit message that locking up a Black child is OK. This is an egregious example of the school-to-prison pipeline that criminalizes racialized disability.Our heart goes out to Jaleel and his family, to Renee and her family, and the too-many other children who have been abused and mistreated by the school staff they trusted. 

We, at FOCS, utterly condemn the systemic racism and ableism in our education system that allowed such acts to continue to happen and hurt too many of our children. Witness reports also recently uncovered abuse of a 7-year-old Black student, as well as other special education students, at Stevens Elementary School last year. Students there were being similarly “isolated, restrained, and verbally and physically abused in manners that violate both district policy and state law.” 

Although the systemic racism that pervades our educational institutions has been painfully evident, a key issue that doesn’t get nearly enough attention in racial equity policies is the experiences and marginalization of BIPOC families affected by racialized disability. Our students who are Black and experience disability have both these identities at the same time as they navigate a world of systemic inequities. According to the National Council on Disability, “African-American students with disabilities represent 18.7 percent of the special education population, but 49.9 percent of special education students in correctional facilities.”2

For true Black liberation to be achieved, our society needs to embrace, center, and integrate Black children who experience disability and neurodiversity and eliminate the discriminatory over-discipline in schools; our schools’ anti-racism work must be intersectional. The intersection of racism and ableism is highly risky, sometimes deadly for our Black children, as they fall through the gaps left by siloing anti-racism from anti-ableism. 

Among FOCS staff and board there are descendants of Native American boarding school survivors, descendants of enslaved Africans, and immigrant descendants of colonized people. We are in a city named for a Native Chief, Sealth, where citizens of over 29 federally recognized tribes from this state and a large urban Native population from tribal nations everywhere are trying to heal from the transgenerational traumas of the boarding school era; in a county named after Dr. Martin Luther King, where we know of the horrendous acts of slavery, Jim Crow, and police brutality, and the consequences of Black families’ intergenerational trauma; in a state where Japanese internment occurred at a fairground; and in a country where Latinx children are currently being caged and denied their human rights.

The damaging impacts of all of our ancestors’ children being caged have been felt through generations and can take several lifetimes to even begin to heal, because the wound left by an act such as this is a soul wound. Imagine that damage and pain. Then imagine the work and the resilience and the unrelentless and completely selfless love from others in the community required to begin the mending journey. Because you never truly heal from something like this, but we can begin to try by making sure it never happens to anyone again.

Consistent with FOCS’ mission that Children of Color be raised in a world that is racially just, it is our responsibility to require our education system to destigmatize disability and atypical development of Black children in our greater Seattle community, and to elevate the importance of race and disability intersectionality in all social justice and equity work. We call on Seattle Public Schools to provide credible and measurable assurances that this horrendous treatment of Jaleel will not happen again to another child and to institute and implement anti-racist policies that center BIPOC students with disabilities as those currently farthest from educational justice.

Families of Color Seattle (FOCS) is holding a free virtual gathering today, Friday 12/11 at 12pm, to discuss how BIPOC families and community members can unite and advocate for students like Jaleel, those who are the farthest from educational justice due to racism and ableism. With FOCS Executive Director Christine Tang & Seattle-based Disability Justice leaders and parents, including Celeste Peña, Khadijah Toms, and more. REGISTER

1The Briefing Report to the United States Commission on Civil Rights

“Beyond Suspensions: Examining School Discipline Policies and Connections to the School-to-Prison Pipeline for Students of Color with Disabilities” states “Data the U.S. Department of Education reports show a consistent pattern of schools suspending or expelling black students with disabilities at higher rates than their proportion of the population of students with disabilities. Data show the large majority of out-of-school suspensions are for nonviolent behavior.”


Families of Color Seattle (FOCS) is a community-based nonprofit organization that works to empower families of color to confidently raise children to be their authentic selves; foster community networks and social capital in order to create thriving and resilient cultural communities; and mobilize for racial equity and systemic change that centers the experiences of families of color. 

Featured image: “Gated” by focusedcapture; used here under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

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