In The Politics of Autism, I write about special education and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) filed a lawsuit today against the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) for abdicating its responsibility to protect the civil rights of students. The suit alleges that the Department has taken actions that interfere with USDOE’s obligation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to ensure children with disabilities get the education services they need in the most appropriate setting without regard to their race.
COPAA filed the suit against the U.S. Department of Education, Secretary Betsy DeVos and Johnny W. Collett, Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, to challenge the Department’s notice delaying the implementation of regulations on significant disproportionality, known as the Equity in IDEA regulations. The Department's actions are legally flawed and bad policy that stall much needed reform.
It is just the second time in its 20-year history that COPAA has sued a federal agency. The decision to delay the regulation is an assault on children and the Department’s action sends mixed messages to the states regarding implementation of a key tool for civil rights enforcement. “The delay harms children and we can't afford a delay. We have real stories of kindergartners suspended 60 times; older boys and girls pushed out and criminalized for behaviors that are related to their disability. The state is not doing what it should to properly identify and serve students. We need the federal government to implement the regulations now,” said Shenikwa Medlock, a parent and advocate COPAA member in Texas. COPAA’s Executive Director, Denise Marshall said “the regulations respond to the reality that, despite being a requirement under IDEA for almost 15 years, many school districts have not taken the steps to correctly identify whether students of color need special education, sometimes under-identifying, sometime over-identifying, but rarely just right.”
According to the complaint, the significant disproportionality provision was intended to serve as an early-warning system for possible problems, analogous to a “check engine” light. When a State identifies racially significant disproportionality in a school district’s identification, placement, or discipline of students with disabilities, the State must review the school district’s policies, practices, and procedures to ensure they comply with the IDEA; engage in an analysis that identifies the factors contributing to the significant disproportionality, i.e., a root–cause analysis; and spend a percentage of their IDEA funds on comprehensive coordinated intervention services. There is no requirement that a school district eliminate a significant disproportionality if the disproportionality is not a result of violations of the IDEA but instead reflects differences among different student populations in that community.
COPAA is represented in the lawsuit by the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) and Sidley Austin LLP. According to Seth Galanter, Senior Director of Legal Advocacy at NCYL “It's well documented that students of color who are wrongly identified as needing special education are improperly placed in restrictive classrooms, lose access to challenging academics, and are subjected to unfair disciplinary measures.” Galanter says a delay in implementing the Equity in IDEA regulations will prevent COPAA from bringing these and other harms to the attention of USDOE and the public.###