WASHINGTON (CN) – A nonprofit that serves as an advocate for the parents of children with disabilities sued Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday for delaying a regulation intended to support black and Hispanic children with disabilities.
In a 38-page federal complaint filed in Washington, D.C., the Council Of Parent Attorneys and Advocates Inc. says DeVos and the Education Department’s delay of regulations intended to aid in identifying racial disparities in special needs programs in the nation’s public schools was “an abuse of discretion” done without scientific merit, and without knowledge of the impact the delay will have on families, children and even the states who have already devoted 18 months to coming into compliance with the law.
The delay, announced July 3, two days after the deadline for schools to comply, was issued “in order to thoroughly review the … regulations and ensure that they effectively address the issue of significant disproportionality and best serve children with disabilities,” according to an Education Department statement.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, signed into law in 1975 and amended in 1990, was designed to ensure that children with disabilities receive an education through programs tailored to their individual needs.
While considered a success in many respects, the complaint says IDEA has long struggled with meeting the needs of black and Hispanic children with disabilities. In 2004, Congress ordered states to look at disparities in programs meant to comply with the law, but left it to the states to hash out most of the details of how to carry out the analysis.
After years of data collection, Congress found the state’s efforts “wanting” and, in 2014, moved to standardize that data collection and methodology for identifying students in need.
Those standards were released in 2016, and states were given 18 months to comply. Before DeVos’ decision to delay it, the deadline to comply was July 1, 2018.
The complaint points to the agency’s own research which showed minority children, most often black males, are over-identified as having special needs which gives schools a “seemingly neutral justification to place them in a separate ‘special education’ classroom away from their white peers.”
This, according to the complaint, is a modern form of segregation that standardized data collection and identification could avoid.
It also points to the agency’s own support for the regulations, including a symposium and webinar held in February 2017 and DeVos announcing a “model timeline” of tasks for states to complete ahead of the deadline.
But before the end of 2017 support for the regulations began to fall apart, the complaint says. News outlets found documents suggesting a delay in implementation and rule changes that could impact state’s IDEA funding applications.
After more information was sought about the future of the rule change it was discovered, according to the complaint, that much of the roll back was based on less than 10 comments – out of 16,000 – which expressed concerns about racial quotas and a lack of statutory authority to make these regulations.
“The Department’s failure to require compliance with the 2016… regulations deprives [plaintiffs] of information on which it routinely relies,” reads the complaint. “This lack of information directly conflicts with [plaintiff’s] mission to prevent violations of the IDEA and frustrates its public education efforts.”
The complaint seeks a judge’s order saying the delay is unlawful and enjoying the Education Department and DeVos from taking any steps that would further delay implementation.