On February 27, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos officially proposed a two-year delay to the Obama-era rule, aimed at addressing the unequal identification of students of color for special education – and the disproportionate discipline of these students. . This delay has been in the works for months, and if you read the notification closely, it’s clear that DeVos doesn’t just want to delay the rule — she wants to cancel it altogether.
At his confirmation hearing last year, DeVos famously thwarted questions about the Students with Disabilities and Persons with Disabilities Education Act. Asked whether she would implement the law, she said it was “best left to the states.” At a later hearing, she said she was “confused” about the law. But withdrawing this rule confirms her original statement: She thinks protecting the rights of children with disabilities is not in her job description.
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This particular rule eventually put some teeth into a legal requirement that began in 1997 and expanded in 2004: it mandated states to identify school districts that more or less serve certain groups of students for special education services. identify, and help them fix it. Unfortunately, the manner in which states met this long-standing need was wildly inconsistent across the country. A 2013 report by the Government Accountability Office found that states identified only two percent of districts as challenges in the sector, with half of those districts coming from just five states. The GAO also concluded that due to the way some states calculated over- and under-identified, “it is unlikely that any districts will be identified,” while for 73 of the 356 identified districts in one state, Louisiana. Is responsible.
The original regulation simply stated that all states must use a standard method for calculating over and under identification, by examining the probability of identification of one group of students for special education compared to all other students. It does not impose a national requirement on how much or less identification is too much, and does not require any specific action by states or districts when inequality is detected. But it makes it more likely that states and districts will take the issue more seriously, and parents and advocates will be able to see where systemic problems may exist.
And these systemic problems are real. As stated in the original regulation, black students are more than twice as likely than other students to be identified as having emotional disabilities, an identification that can lead to stigma and exclusion from general education classrooms. And Native-American students are identified as having specific learning disabilities, almost twice the rate of other students.
There is also research suggesting that – when poverty and other risk factors are controlled – students of color may actually be under-recognized for special education services, and therefore may not be receiving the support they may need. Is. In any case, the coherent approach and data that the regulation provides is critical to understanding and addressing these problems.
Unfortunately, ignoring the real and obvious systemic barriers to education that exist for students of color—and especially students of color who have disabilities—is something of a Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos trademark. DeVos’ delay in this rule follows reports that it is also considering back guidance that helps school districts address the overuse of suspensions and expulsions for students of color.
Equally troubling, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has completely removed any mention of systemic scrutiny from its instructions to investigators. DeVos is now asking investigators to ignore the broader context of the discrimination complaint, and it has made it far easier to dismiss complaints.
Of course, DeVos has yet to officially delay special education regulation or withdraw guidance on school discipline. But his other actions on civil rights – from limiting systematic scrutiny to refusing to protect transgender students from discrimination to cutting staff at the Office for Civil Rights – make his leanings clear.
The Trump administration is on a mission to roll back federal protections for everything from the environment to health and safety to voting rights. And DeVos has fully accepted his workload. Despite leading an agency whose mission includes “promoting educational excellence and ensuring equitable access,” DeVos’ actions make clear that it is important to break down systemic barriers to excellence and access for students of color or students with disabilities. They are not interested.