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Ed. Dept. Explains Special Education Guidance Cutbacks After Outcry

Betsy-Devos-points-blog.jpgLast week, the Education Department announced it was rolling back 72 guidance documents—63 that came from the office of special education programs, and nine from the Rehabilitation Services Administration—as part of a larger Trump administration initiative to clear the federal books of "outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective" regulations. 

Special education advocates and Democratic operatives, already highly skeptical of the Education Department's actions around special education and students with disabilities, got angry. VERY angry.

The Council for Parent Attorneys and Advocates said in a statement it was "disappointed in the way [the office for special education and rehabilitative services] has made this announcement, because the process undertaken lacks complete transparency to the public." The organization said the department should have made it clear why the revocations were needed.

That was one of the more measured responses. The Democratic National Committee sent out an email saying that  "Betsy DeVos' decision to rescind guidelines outlining rights for students with disabilities is shameful and immoral." Bobby Scott, a Democrat from Virginia and the top Democrat on the House education committee, said the decision was "the latest in a series of disturbing actions taken by the Trump Administration to undermine civil rights for vulnerable Americans." 

On Tuesday, the Education Department tried again. It released the same list of rescinded regulations, but now the list includes explanations of just why these particular documents were targeted. As I noted last week, the guidance and memos are decades old, were created for a limited purpose, or have been superseded by newer laws and regulations. 

"There are no policy implications to these rescissions," said Liz Hill, a department spokeswoman. "Students with disabilities and their advocates will see no impact on services provided." 

But this dustup demonstrates how disability advocates are on a hair trigger when it comes to this administration—and they have been from the start, when Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stumbled during her confirmation hearing over questions of special education policy.

And though these particular guidance documents are just old, the department has made substantive changes in policy that angered many civil rights, including ending an Obama-era policy of seeing whether individual civil rights complaints might be caused by systemic violations, and requirements that schools allow students to use the restrooms and locker rooms that matched their gender identity.

This won't be the last time the department pares down regulations: in addition to combing through guidance on its own, the department also solicited comments from the public about what regulations it believes are unnecessary. But, as I noted before, there are certain bedrock regulations, such as those related to parental consent to initial evaluation or initial placement in special education, least restrictive environment, timelines, and attendance of evaluation personnel at individualized education program meetings. The text of the law says that those regulations can't be "procedurally or substantively lessened" without  Congressional action.

Photo: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks at the Council of the Great City Schools Annual Legislative/Policy Conference in Washington in March.—Jose Luis Magana/AP-File

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