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Education Department to Appeal Decision on Special Education Bias Rule

The U.S. Department of Education will appeal a judge's ruling that could affect how school districts across the country spend millions of dollars in federal special education money.

The department has wanted to delay the implementation of a rule related to how states monitor their school districts' identification of minority students for special education, in addition to their discipline or placement in restrictive settings. Districts found to have "significant disproportionality" of minority students in one or more of these areas, compared to white students, must set aside 15 percent of their federal special education funding to spend on remedies.

That monitoring is already required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. But the "Equity in IDEA" rule, which was finalized on December 2016, requires states to take a standardized approach in how they evaluate their districts for disproportionality. Only about 3 percent of the nation's districts are identified as having issues of concern now; it is expected that the new rule would mean more school districts would join that number.

Under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the department has moved to put off the Equity in IDEA rule by two years for further study, saying it might prompt special education quotas.

But U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan's decision March 7 vacated the Education Department's delaying action. She ruled that the delay is a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal agencies propose and implement regulations.

Since that decision, there had been little word from the department—other than the notice of appeal, dated May 6—about what it planned to do in the wake of the judge's ruling. DeVos has been asked about the decision by lawmakers and recently said the department was "moving towards implementation." 

The Council for Parent Attorneys and Advocates, which sued the Education Department to get the rule reinstated, said that it was aware of the department's action. 

"Of course, states are still required to carry out the Equity in IDEA regulations regardless of the legal proceedings, and we urge them to come into compliance as required by law," the organization said in a statement. 

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