Civil rights advocates are calling out Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for her "mean-spirited, reckless, and unnecessary" decision to delay a rule that aims to standardize to how schools identify students with disabilities in hopes of addressing issues of discrimination.
"This issue is of particular interest to the civil and human rights community given our long struggle to ensure educational opportunity, full inclusion, and appropriate supports and services for children with disabilities, boys and girls of color, English learners, and Native American, low-income, and LGBTQ students."
—113 civil rights groups
"Once again, Secretary DeVos has chosen to shirk her responsibility to protect the civil rights of America's children," said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
DeVos is delaying by two years the implementation of an Obama-era rule that would enforce the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by requiring states to use a standard monitoring method to ensure that students of color are not unnecessarily placed into special education programs, and are not unfairly or disproportionately suspended or expelled.
Final notice of the delay—which civil rights advocates worry will result in a significant revision or scrapping of the rule—is set to be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday.
News that DeVos was considering the delay first broke in October, alarming civil rights advocates such as Gupta, who pointed to the "widespread support" for the rule, noting that "more than 100 organizations support it and 15,000 favorable comments were submitted to the department."
Gupta's group partnered with more than 100 other organizations in December to send a letter to DeVos reiterating their "strong support for the robust enforcement" of IDEA provisions "regarding significant disproportionality in the identification, placement, and discipline of students with disabilities with regard to race and ethnicity."
"This issue is of particular interest to the civil and human rights community," the letter declares, "given our long struggle to ensure educational opportunity, full inclusion, and appropriate supports and services for children with disabilities, boys and girls of color, English learners, and Native American, low-income, and LGBTQ students."
The groups conclude that delaying the rule "serves no meaningful purpose and will only result in harm to children, and confusion, and wasted resources on the part of the federal and state departments of education and school districts."
While IDEA has for years required that states monitor whether students of color are disproportionately disciplined and designated as having disabilities, as Christina Samuels at Education Week outlined Monday, how that's monitored has not been consistent on a nationl scale.
"Districts found to have problems must set aside 15 percent of their federal special education dollars to spend on remedies. Only a tiny fraction of districts—3 percent in the 2015-16 school year—have been identified as having problems severe enough to merit use of the 15 percent set-aside," Samuels explained. By contrast, the Obama-era rule, which would have gone into effect for the 2018-19 school year, "requires states to use a standardized approach in measuring disproportionality, with the result that more districts would be identified with problems requiring remedies."