In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the educational and civil rights of people with autism and other disabilities.
The name of the session, "The School-to-Prison Pipeline: The Intersections of Students of Color with Disabilities," offered a clue to the stance of some panelists who spoke before the bipartisan commission: That too many students with disabilities are being placed in special education, and once there, they face punitive discipline that puts many of them on a rocky path to incarceration.
"We can't afford to ignore this problem," said Eve Hill, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's civil rights division. "We're wasting the talents and skills of tens of thousands of children every year."
But that wasn't a view shared by every panelist, nor by every commissioner. Peter Kirsanow, the only Republican on the commission, said that efforts by the federal government to reduce suspensions and expulsions have led to "unlawful quotas." He also asked if keeping disruptive students in school had a negative impact on the students who remained.
"The most vulnerable cohort would be students with disabilities," Kirsanow said, referring to other research on the high rates of bullying toward students in special education.
At US News, Lauren Camera reports on DeVos's review of Education Department rules.
Two of those regulations are at the heart of the current civil rights spat.
The first is a 2014 regulation aimed at stemming the school-to-prison pipeline by prodding schools to reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions of students of color and students with disabilities, both of whom receive such disciplinary actions at disproportionately high rates.
According to the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, among the 2.6 million students suspended each year, black boys are three times more like than white boys to be suspended, black girls are six times more likely than white girls to be suspended, and students with disabilities are more than twice as likely as their peers to be suspended.
The second regulation, issued in 2016, established a more standardized method for how states calculate the threshold at which the percentage of black students classified as disabled becomes a "significant disproportionality" – a benchmark that triggers mandatory spending requirements for a portion of federal funds a district receives. The goal of the guidance, which is set to go into effect for the 2018-2019 school year, was to create a way to better monitor the long-held notion that students of color are identified as having learning disabilities at a greater rate than white students.
DeVos has not signaled whether her department is leaning toward repealing the regulations entirely, but she recently met with critics of the 2014 school discipline guidance and also recently published in the Federal Register a notice seeking comment on whether or not the compliance date for the 2016 regulation should be delayed until 2020.