The Trump administration recently rescinded 72 pieces of guidance related to special education and vocational rehabilitation services for children and adults with disabilities. Their explanation: the documents were outdated, unnecessary or ineffective. No additional explanation was provided at the time. This raised concerns, and with good reason.
While statutory provisions and regulations get more attention in most circles, guidance documents play critical roles, too. Simply put, guidance from the Department of Education provides individuals with disabilities, families, teachers and other stakeholders with critical information about programs and policies that are important to the education and employment of children and adults with disabilities. The guidance often provides explanations and interpretations of laws and regulations, frequently ensuring the protection of the civil rights of individuals with disabilities.
While it may be advantageous to purge documents that are no longer useful or have been superseded by subsequent guidance or changes in the law, the disability community deserves more of an explanation than what this administration has provided. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has failed to ensure that the Department’s stakeholders understand the impact of the decisions it makes.
The manner in which the administration pursued this exercise reveals a lack of regard for individuals with disabilities, families, teachers and stakeholders who rely on this guidance to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities and pursue excellence in education and employment.
And now, we learn that the secretary is considering delaying, or even removing, regulations designed to address longstanding and systemic inequities in special education for children of color. Since 2004, states have been required to identify school districts with significant disproportionality based on race or ethnicity in special education.
Despite decades of data demonstrating that children of color are far more likely to be identified as needing special education, educated in segregated settings, and suspended from school, only a tiny fraction of school districts with significant disproportionality have been identified. Accordingly, the Department issued regulations requiring states to use a standard approach to identify significant disproportionality based on race or ethnicity, and gave states until the spring of 2019 to make the required determinations of significant disproportionality.
The requirement to address the inequities has been in place since 2004. Does Secretary DeVos believe it is acceptable to wait a few more years to provide an appropriate public education to children of color with disabilities, if at all?
Unfortunately, the secretary has displayed a lack of clarity and purpose regarding enforcing the rights of children with disabilities. It’s not simply the rescission of the 72 pieces of guidance without sufficient explanation, or the contemplated delay in implementing critical protections for children of color with disabilities. Rather, it appears to be a pattern of rolling back hard-won protections for children and adults with disabilities. We deserve better.