Weekly News Roundup: Racial Disparities in Special Education

Our team is always seeking the latest news in the field of education. As advocates for a high-quality education for ALL students, we know we have to stay up-to-date on everything that’s going on in the education spheres of our nation…from the White House to the local public school district, from new legislation to the small acts of bravery and kindness made by a single teacher, from the milestones and celebrations to the hazardous injustices affecting many of our nation’s students.

In this week’s roundup, we’re focused on the Department of Education’s failure to implement rules designed to protect against racial disparities in Special Ed. We’re leading off with an article summarizing the decision, before featuring a round-up of reactions to the Department’s refusal to protect student civil rights and a new court ruling that could have a big impact.

The News

DeVos Illegally Delayed Special Education Rule, Judge Says via The New York Times

A federal judge has ruled that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos illegally delayed an Obama-era rule that required states to address racial disparities in special education programs.

The rule, drafted under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, would require states to identify districts with “significant disproportionality” in the number of minority students channeled into special education services, segregated in restrictive classroom settings or disciplined.

Passed in the final weeks of the Obama administration, the rule required districts to examine policies and practices that contributed to the disparities and fund remedies.

The Reaction

How Disability Rights Advocates Turned Back the Trump Administration’s Attack on Students of Color via the ACLU

When children of color are disproportionately identified as needing special education, there are particular risks involved. Children of color with disabilities are more likely to be educated in segregated settings, leaving them with fewer opportunities to interact with nondisabled peers, access rigorous academic content, engage with effective educators, and participate in enrichment activities.

There are also disturbing disparities when it comes to discipline and children of color and children with disabilities. On average, schools suspend Black children at double the rate of white or Hispanic children, and they suspend children with disabilities at more than double the rate of children without disabilities.

When children are removed from the classroom for disciplinary reasons, or educated in segregated settings, academic performance is impacted.

Court Reinstates Protections against Racial Discrimination in Special Education via the National Center for Youth Law

“We are pleased the court understood that this Administration’s efforts to slow down needed civil rights reforms for children with disabilities were unjustified,” said Seth Galanter, senior director at the National Center for Youth Law.

“While identification of children for special education is deeply complex, the court has made clear that the Department’s position – that the regulations would have caused [state-determined] quotas for special education – is unfounded. Today’s decision assures States will be required to help their districts who have historically discriminated against children and provide those children with early intervening services rather than ordering their suspension and expulsion from school.”

Judge smacks down Devos’ racist attempt to thwart special education via Shareblue Media

Students of color — particularly African-American students — with disabilities are often placed in more restrictive educational settings. This meant that those students were removed from non-special education, or “mainstream,” classes more often than their white counterparts. This isn’t permissible under IDEA, which requires that students be educated in the least restrictive environment possible.

The statistics are much, much worse when it comes to discipline of students of color who were receiving special education services. The Department’s own data underpinned a massive new study that found that in the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, black students with disabilities lost almost three times the days of instruction as white students with disabilities. This is because students of color who received special education services were removed from the classroom, suspended, or expelled at far greater rates than their white counterparts.

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