Date of Conferral



Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Ella Benson


The overrepresentation of African American (AA) students in special education is a problem in the United States, with concerns about the lack of uniformity in AA students' referrals to special education, and whether the referral process is applied consistently for all students. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to examine the perceptions of teachers, school counselors, and school administrators concerning the special education referral process, and whether the process was applied consistently for all students. The 2 theories providing the theoretical foundation were critical race theory and zone of proximal development. Criterion sampling was used to select 6 participants for this qualitative case study. The sample included 2 teachers, 2 school counselors, and 2 school administrators. Face-to face interviews were conducted and transcripts were analyzed using open coding with topical analysis to see if any patterns emerged concerning teachers', school counselors', and school administrators' perceptions of the special education referral process. Member checking was used to improve trustworthiness of the interpretations. Findings revealed that all participants were unaware of the disproportionate number of AA students in special education, and reported that they followed the established rules and procedures within the school to guide their referral decisions. In addition, all respondents identified their distinct role in the referral process, and indicated that when placed properly, students can benefit from special education placement. Positive social change may result by exploring stakeholder perceptions of the special education referral processes among school staff, and ensuring that those involved in special education referrals are applying processes consistently for all students.