The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has published a strong report criticizing the Spanish educational system for its unfair and discriminatory treatment of thousands of children, violating their right to an inclusive education. As a Spanish scholar noted, this is a violation of human rights, more than a “personal problem.” As a Spanish scholar explained in response to the UN report,  “In schools, disability is understood in individual and biological terms - a personal problem - so the solutions that the system poses deeply entrench the problem by confining it to the private realm. But the problem is a public one and the solutions must be of the social kind. This should no longer be a question of what happens to this or that boy or girl. We must raise the issue of what problem lies behind our having decided that these children cannot learn along with the others.”

“Every day many families are being 'invited' to leave common schools because they will not offer them what their family members need. Some of these families find themselves forced to change; others assume it is the best option, since it was professionals who recommended it, and 'choose' segregated education… Many families suffer great pain in the schooling process of their sons and daughters, instead of finding a fundamental support at school. All too many boys and girls are sent to exclusionary schooling modalities, either in specific classrooms within the ordinary centres or in special education centres, and this is unacceptable.”

Teacher activists and scholars have urged “rethinking disability,” pushing for a different model of education that allows disabled people to direct their own learning, identify needs and strategies. Some unions are taking up this struggle by organizing teachers, with parents and community, to demand changes in school systems. The Chicago Teachers Union has launched a  campaign towards this end, as has the National Education Union. The British Columbia Teachers Federation has developed and fought for extensive protections for special needs students in the provincial schools.

The challenge of providing quality education for special needs students is especially acute in school systems in the global South, which have suffered under policies imposed by global finance organizations, agreed to by compliant governments; and disabled girls are among the most marginalised and poorly educated groups in the world.

(The response to the UN report is available in Spanish: Segregar por discapacidad a la infancia es violar los derechos humanos)