DeVos illegally delayed rule to rectify racist practices in special education

Last week a federal judge ruled that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos illegally delayed a rule that would require states examine and rectify policies and practices that contributed to racial inequities in special education programs. The rule had been passed under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act in the final days of the Obama administration.

Previous to that ruling, as a response to concerns that students of color were over-represented in special education, Congress required school systems collect data on the demographics and treatment of special-education students. This was done in hopes of determining whether students of color are more likely to be removed from mainstream classrooms, or, if while in special-education classrooms, they face harsher discipline. If states identified problematic disparities, they could set aside federal funds to improve. But the Obama administration became concerned that states had too much leeway to determine when a problem exists. A 2013 report from the Government Accountability Office found that states identified a mere 2% of districts as having problems with disparities, but advocates think the problem is much more widespread. So, the department issued the “significant disproportionality rule” which defines how states should identify problematic school systems.

The School Superintendents Association, which represents more than 13,000 superintendents across the country, supported DeVos’ two-year delay of the rule, because it would save them money. They believed that the new formula for evaluation could impose a financial burden on districts and further strap underfunded special education programs. The group said that DeVos’ delay would save money in more than 300 districts this year. So, rather than demand more money for severely underfunded schools (caused by cuts from DeVos and the many Republicans that preceded her who had the goal of dismantling the Department of Education), the School Superintendents Association preferred to delay an evaluation of racist practices in education.

DeVos’ decision to delay the rule came after a public comment period gave voice to hundreds of people expressing concern over discriminatory practices denying black and Hispanic students a proper education in a traditional classroom setting and pushing them out of school to lives on the margins of society or in prison.

In last week’s ruling, US District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan said that DeVos’s attempt at a two-year delay was “arbitrary and capricious” and that she violated the Administrative Procedures Act by not giving a “reasoned explanation” for the delay. Because of Chutkan’s ruling, the original provision will immediately go into effect.

This decision stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, an advocacy group for children with disabilities. Denise Marshall, executive director for the COPAA, said the judge’s decision “assures states will be required to help their districts who have historically discriminated against children” by offering them services rather than suspensions.

“Today’s court ruling is a major victory for students and parents and an important step toward ensuring that all students have access to a high-quality, equitable education in a safe and healthy environment. The Equity in IDEA rule is necessary to address the over-representation, inappropriate placement, and over-discipline of students of color in special education.” – Rep. Bob Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee

DeVos’ intended delay of the now-reinstated rule, combined with her increasing the number of police officers in schools while cutting the number of school counselors and nurses, is strengthening the school-to-prison pipeline. This has a disproportionate effect on both students of color and students with disabilities. These marginalized students are subject to more discipline bias and overcriminalization than their peers. While arrest rates were higher across the board for schools with police compared with schools without police, students with disabilities were arrested almost three times more than peers, and in certain states were 10 times as likely to be arrested. Black students were arrested at a rate three times higher than white students, and sometimes eight times higher, the report found.

In Fall 2018, another federal judge unblocked an Obama-era ruling that DeVos impeded, which aims to help students cheated by for-profit colleges get relief on their education debt. Because of that judge’s ruling, the Department of Education ended up wiping away student debt for 15,000 borrowers, worth about $150 million.

These are just two more reasons to despise Betsy DeVos. She also:

Sources: The Hill, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post,

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