Trump Administration Delays Special Ed Rule

Federal officials are unveiling a new special education website months after problems with an existing site drew the attention of advocates and lawmakers. (Anne Meadows/Flickr)

by Michelle Diament | July 10, 2018

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The Trump administration is officially postponing implementation of an Obama-era rule designed to prevent kids from certain backgrounds from being wrongly placed in special education.

In a final rule published July 3 in the Federal Register, the U.S. Department of Education halted the so-called “significant disproportionality” rule, which was supposed to take effect this month, for two years.

“This delay will give the department, the states and the public additional time to evaluate the questions involved and determine how best to serve children with disabilities without increasing the risk that children with disabilities are denied (a free appropriate public education),” the agency’s notice indicates.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, states must identify school districts with high rates of students from particular racial or ethnic groups who have disabilities, are placed in restrictive settings or are subjected to discipline. However, states have used different measures to assess districts and few were ever flagged.

The significant disproportionality rule, which was originally finalized in the last weeks of the Obama administration, looked to establish a uniform national standard.

Earlier this year, the Education Department sought public comment on the idea of a two-year delay. At the time, the agency said the rule “may not appropriately address the problem of significant disproportionality” and indicated there were concerns about whether the Education Department had the statutory authority to create a national standard.

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According to the final rule issued this month, even with the delay, states may go ahead with implementing the new standard if they wish to.

Furthermore, federal officials said that states must still meet their obligations under IDEA to assess whether significant disproportionality exists in school districts.

School administrators have supported the Education Department’s move to delay the regulations, saying that the changes would be costly and burdensome.

Disability and special education advocates, however, have worked to discourage any holdup in the rule’s implementation.

Denise Marshall, executive director for the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, called the Education Department’s latest move “bad policy and legally flawed” and said her group is considering legal action to overturn the delay.

“States should not assume this delay will remain on the books long,” Marshall said. “We urge every state to comply with the Equity in IDEA regulations now. Compliance with these regulations will address the serious issues of racial disproportionality while ensuring that every student with a disability receives the special education and related services to which they are entitled, regardless of race or ethnicity.”

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