On December 21, 2018, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it had rescinded a package of guidance documents related to school discipline. The guidance detailed how, among other things, educators should prevent discipline from being administered in a way that disproportionately impacts minority students and those with disabilities. The announcement follows the December 18, 2018, release of the Federal Commission on School Safety report, which recommended rescission of the guidance. Education Secretary DeVos stated that the guidance put too much emphasis on statistics, adding that the rescission “makes it clear that discipline is a matter on which classroom teachers and local school leaders deserve and need autonomy.” The Arc strongly opposes the rescission of the package of documents that provide helpful guidance for schools, but emphasizes that the obligations for schools under existing civil rights and education laws remain in effect.
On June 29, the Department of Education announced that it would delay the regulations that were set to take effect this month to address racial/ethnic disproportionality in the identification, placement, and discipline of students served by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The requirement for states and school districts to collect and report data on significant disproportionality, and take certain action if it is found, was added to the IDEA in 2004. However, since that time few states and school districts have reported any such significant disproportionality. In response to this problem, documented in a 2013 study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Department of Education issued regulations in 2016 to require a standard methodology to calculate significant disproportionality. In February, the Department solicited public comment on a proposed delay of these regulations as part of President Trump’ Executive Order 13777, “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda.” Nearly 400 comments were submitted in response with the vast majority opposing the delay, including comments from The Arc and from school districts already in the implementation process. The Department cited concerns about creating incentives for quotas and the need to study the issue further as justification for postponement. The Arc is very disappointed with the Department’s action and remains very concerned about the disproportionate numbers of minority students being over identified with certain types of disabilities, placed in segregated settings, and suspended and/or expelled.
The Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative released several resources concerning discipline policies in public schools. The Collaborative produced the resources in response to its findings that students with disabilities are suspended at disproportionately high rates – almost twice as frequently as their peers who do not have disabilities and for longer periods of time. The intersection of race and disability results in even larger disparities. Twenty-five percent of African American students with disabilities were suspended in 2009-10 compared to nine percent of white students with disabilities. The Collaborative reported that during the 2009-10 school year, more than 3 million students in grades K-12 were suspended. The Collaborative is comprised of 26 nationally recognized experts from the social science, education, and legal fields.