On January 11, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of a Colorado student with autism, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District.Endrew’s parents withdrew their son (known as Drew) from public school and enrolled him in a private school after his individualized education program (IEP) proposed goals for fifth grade that closely resembled goals for earlier years. This case addressed the following question: what level of educational benefit must school districts confer on children with disabilities to provide them with the free appropriate public education guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act? The Arc joined other disability advocates in filing an amicus brief in November that argues that Congress’s move to standards based education, combined with the specific language of the amendments to the IDEA, make the Tenth Circuit’s merely-more-than-de-minimis standard untenable. The brief argued that these amendments make clear that a school district’s educational interventions must provide a child with a disability an equal opportunity to meet the standards the district applies to all children and that any deviation from that universal standard must be tied to the unique needs of the child. For more information about the oral argument, see the argument analysis from SCOTUSblog. A decision is expected this summer.
On December 28, 2016, the U.S. Department of Education released three new sets of guidance packages to assist the public in understanding how the Department interprets and enforces federal civil rights laws protecting the rights of students with disabilities:
On January 11, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of Betsy DeVos to be the Secretary of Education. The Department of Education is responsible for implementation of federal education laws including Every Student Succeeds Act, the Higher Education Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Visit the Committee web site for more information or to access live video the day of the hearing.
On December 7, the Department of Education released final regulations on assessments in public schools. These regulations implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015 require states to continue testing students every year, but provide more flexibility for states to try out new kinds of tests or use a nationally recognized college entrance test (such as the SAT) at the high school level. Among other things, the final regulations tweak the criteria for deciding when a state can get a waiver for exceeding the cap on the percentage of students who can take an alternate assessment based on alternative achievement standards (AA-AAS). The default cap of 1% of all students being tested was set to ensure that only students with “the most significant cognitive disabilities” take an AA-AAS. Many states preclude students who only take an AA-AAS from receiving a regular high school diploma. Read a fact sheet on the final regulations here and see the waiver language here.
On November 22, Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. sent a letter to governors and state education officials urging an end to the use of corporal punishment. “School-sponsored corporal punishment is not only ineffective, it is a harmful practice, and one that disproportionally impacts students of color and students with disabilities,” King wrote. There are 22 states that either expressly permit in-school corporal punishment or where no state law prohibits it. The 15 states that expressly permit corporal punishment are AL, AZ, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, MO, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, and WY. The seven states where no state law prohibits corporal punishment are CO, ID, IN, KS, MA, NH, and SD. According to the Department of Education’s data, 110,000 students were subjected to some type of physical punishment in school during the 2013-2014 academic year.
Last week the Department of Education released new resources related to the hiring and training of school resource officers (SROs). These are the latest efforts by the Departments of Education and Justice to reshape school discipline by pushing back against zero-tolerance policies, some of which have led to claims of SROs violating students’ civil rights, including incidents of restraint and seclusion. The resources include guidelines created for local and state policymakers that outline best practices for creating agreements between schools and local law enforcement agencies. Those best practices will now serve as requirements for SROs hired through Department of Justice grants. For hiring and training school police, the Department of Education outlined a list of recommended actions for policymakers including seeking community input when creating agreements with law enforcement agencies, establishing a process for evaluating SROs, and training officers on issues such as child development and the appropriate use of restraint. See the resources here and here.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new study examining the growth of private school choice programs and their impact on federal funds for eligible students. According to the study, participation in voucher and education savings account (ESA) programs doubled in the past 5 years, from approximately 70,000 students to approximately 140,000 students. Similarly, funding for these programs has also increased, from approximately $400 million to $859 million. Under laws and regulations for two key federal grant programs, public school districts are required to provide equitable services, including special education and related services for students with disabilities, to eligible private school students. However, they do not specifically address providing these services to students in private school choice programs. Education officials in all the surveyed states maintained that vouchers and ESAs complicate their efforts to implement these programs. To resolve the complication, GAO recommended that the Department of Education include quality information to clarify requirements and responsibilities for student funding eligibility. Read GAO’s study here.
The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released new data showing persistent disparities in our Nation’s public schools between minority and non-minority students. Gaps that still remain for students of color and those with disabilities include incidents of discipline, restraint and seclusion, access to courses and programs that lead to college and career readiness, teacher equity, rates of retention, and access to early learning. Notable findings for students with disabilities in grades K-12 include disproportionate rates of suspension and restraint or seclusion. Students with disabilities served by IDEA (11%) are more than twice as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions as students without disabilities (5%) and students with disabilities served by IDEA represent 12% of all students, but 67% of students subject to restraint or seclusion. Read OCR’s press release here.
The U.S. Department of Education issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to implement key provisions of the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) on May 26. This proposed regulation pertains to school accountability, data reporting, and consolidated state plans. The Arc is reviewing the proposed rule to consider whether it aligns with goals of making data accessible to families, ensuring students with disabilities are included in all school accountability systems, and resulting in effective interventions for children with disabilities if they are in a consistently underperforming subgroup. Comments to the Department are due on July 31. For more information, see the Department’s fact sheet, chart, and a press release.
The National Resource Center on Supported Decision Making is sponsoring a webinar series, From Theory to Practice. On Wednesday, May 25 at 1:00 pm, EDT, the topic will be Supported Decision-Making in Education. Recent studies have found that educational professionals are the most common source of referrals for guardianship. This webinar will feature attorneys and advocates who have worked to include Supported Decision-Making and self-determination into school curriculums. They will tell stories of triumph and struggle that are applicable to professionals across the country. The presenters are Morgan K. Whitlatch, Legal Director at Quality Trust for Individuals with Disabilities and Project Director of the National Resource Center of Supported Decision-Making and Laura Smith Butler, Research Policy Administrator of National Core Indicators at the Human Development Institute, University of Kentucky. Register here.