Betsy DeVos wanted to delay rule that would have helped school districts address the disproportionate discipline of students of color with disabilities.
In a welcome rebuke to the racist policies of Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, a federal judge recently ruled that her attempt to block an Obama-era special education rule from taking effect was illegal.
The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) governs how schools must serve students with disabilities. The regulations that implement IDEA cover everything ranging from school funding to identification of students with disabilities to disciplinary procedures.
Under a rule passed in late 2016, during the Obama administration, the Department of Education addressed the problem of disproportionality in the "identification, placement, and discipline of students with disabilities based on race or ethnicity."
Students of color — particularly African-American students — with disabilities are often placed in more restrictive educational settings. This meant that those students were removed from non-special education, or "mainstream," classes more often than their white counterparts. This isn't permissible under IDEA, which requires that students be educated in the least restrictive environment possible.
The statistics are much, much worse when it comes to discipline of students of color who were receiving special education services. The Department's own data underpinned a massive new study that found that in the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, black students with disabilities lost almost three times the days of instruction as white students with disabilities. This is because students of color who received special education services were removed from the classroom, suspended, or expelled at far greater rates than their white counterparts.
The 2016 rule sought to address these problems by requiring states to identify school districts with significant racial disproportionality in special education. The rule gave districts a standard by which to determine disproportionality and required those districts to review their policies and learn what the causes were and if changes were necessary.
When the Trump administration came in, all that changed. DeVos tried to delay implementation of the rules for two years because the Department needed more time to study the rules as they were concerned it could promote "racial quotas." Only in the fevered mind of DeVos and her cronies could the idea of ensuring that students of color are fairly treated be viewed as a "racial quota."
The judge's decision means that the 2016 rules must go into effect immediately. The judge also specifically criticized the "racial quota" nonsense, noting that the Department hadn't shown how the safeguards in the 2016 rules, which prohibited racial quotas, were lacking.
This isn't the first time DeVos has shown her racist views when it comes to students of color. In the past, she's said that increased protections for minority students make schools more violent. She used the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, as a way to call for a rollback of Obama-era protections designed to stop students of color from being disproportionately disciplined.
This is a huge victory for students, parents, and advocates, but it is a battle they should never have had to fight in the first place.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.