How Disability Rights Advocates Turned Back the Trump Administration’s Attack on Students of Color

Earlier this month, in response to a lawsuit from the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, a national disability rights group, a federal district court ruled that the Trump administration violated federal law when it delayed a Department of Education rule designed to protect students of color and students with disabilities.

Children of color are significantly more likely to be identified as needing special education than their peers. According to the department and decades of research and data, there is a “strong concern” that many of these children have been improperly identified to their detriment.

Congress addressed the problem of significant disproportionality in both the 1997 and 2004 reauthorizations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Under the law, states are required to identify school districts with significant disproportionality in identification, placement, and discipline and take actions to address the disproportionality.

But states had broad discretion in how to define significant disproportionality, and as a result, relatively few districts were identified as disproportionate by states, despite overwhelming data showing a disproportionality problem. Accordingly, the department issued regulations in 2016 to better understand the extent of and address racial and ethnic overrepresentation in special education.

The 2016 regulations were designed to ensure states work with school districts so that children with disabilities are properly identified for services, receive necessary services in the least restrictive environment, and are not disproportionately removed from their educational placements by disciplinary removals. The primary goal of the regulations was to ensure the appropriate review of data and examination for significant disproportionality and, accordingly, help states and districts address and reduce the disproportionate segregation and discipline of students of color.

Under the law, if a district is identified with significant disproportionality, it must set aside 15 percent of its special education funds to provide comprehensive coordinated early intervening services to address the disparities. The regulations took effect January 2017, and states were required to begin using the new regulations to identify significant disproportionality in school districts beginning July 1, 2018.

Regrettably, right before states were to begin implementing the new rules, the Trump administration decided it needed to review the regulations and delayed implementation of the significant disproportionality rule for two years. More than 100 civil rights organizations, including disability rights organizations, opposed the delay. States have had since 2004 to implement these provisions of law and were prepared to move forward with the new rules and begin to meaningfully address these inequities. The delay created confusion and sent the clear message that inequities in special education for children of color simply don’t matter under this administration. More importantly, disparities continue to flourish, with no meaningful opportunity in place to address the disparities. 

When children of color are disproportionately identified as needing special education, there are particular risks involved. Children of color with disabilities are more likely to be educated in segregated settings, leaving them with fewer opportunities to interact with nondisabled peers, access rigorous academic content, engage with effective educators, and participate in enrichment activities.

There are also disturbing disparities when it comes to discipline and children of color and children with disabilities. On average, schools suspend Black children at double the rate of white or Hispanic children, and they suspend children with disabilities at more than double the rate of children without disabilities.

When children are removed from the classroom for disciplinary reasons, or educated in segregated settings, academic performance is impacted. The overwhelming majority of children in special education do not have significant cognitive impairments that inhibit their ability to access grade-level work. Yet, in 2015, only 3 percent of fourth grade Black children with disabilities were reading at or above proficiency, along with 5 percent of Hispanic children with disabilities, and 6 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native children.

Fortunately, the court found that the Department of Education failed to provide a reasoned explanation for delaying the 2016 rule. The court also found that the department’s delay was arbitrary and capricious, failing to take into account the efforts states made to implement the 2016 rule and the costs to children, their parents, and society. The recent court ruling means the original rule will take effect as the department originally intended.

States must begin implementing the rules immediately, identifying school districts with significant disproportionality. If significant disproportionality is found, states must provide for the review and revision, as appropriate, of the district’s policies, practices, and procedures that contribute to the disproportionality. Districts must also provide comprehensive coordinated early intervening services to address the factors contributing to the disproportionality.

It is imperative that we address the systemic inequities in special education for children of color. Special education services should offer assistance to students with disabilities who need it, preferably in the general education classroom. They should not be used to segregate students of color into separate special education classrooms at dramatically disproportionate rates. Both students of color and students with disabilities deserve better  and this restored regulation is an important first step.

View comments (10)
Read the Terms of Use

Ms. Gloria Anasyrma

"...students of color..."? That's right if you don't get your way play the race card.

Ms. Felicia

Wow! Really? How about you speak when you are actually going through this?
These are facts!
Numbers surveys don’t lie!
It’s in every school district!
So YES “STUDENTS OF COLOR”... a shame this is really what America is coming to!

Felicia

When will ANYONE look at what’s going on in Texas Schools? KLEINISD HAS 79.1 % of its special needs children suspended or in alternative schools!
Most being children of color!
Isn’t this disproportionate????
Just asking!

Anonymous

"We don't cotton to 'tards in Kline, Texas": Lyle Lovett.

Anonymous

This was just one of many 'land mine' regulations, all issued in 2016 by the Obama administration. This article is another race baiting propaganda piece, most likely written by a staff member at Media Matters. What a disgraceful example of another smear against the president.

Anonymous

When I was a Special Education teacher , there were some staff members and a site principal who believed I was wrong in my convictions that suspending students, or removing them from the classroom was not shown to work by educational researchers, and inflicted more stigma, "exclusion" not "inclusion", and put students at risk of academic failures. This seemed especially true for students who needed additional supports to help them build self-esteem, resilience, and autonomy . All students learn, especially when they feel valued, safe, and competent. I saw first-hand how students labeled with various learning issues , were put into special education classes. I believed many were acquiring English, specifically CALPS (academic vocabulary), and this was in fact the case. Individuals who are bilingual eventually surpass their monolingual peers in vocabulary and other skills, due to evidence-based research, and theories like SLA (Second Language Acquisition). Evidence tells us that these skills "transfer" between L1 and L2 (first language/second language).
I also experienced situations where I was not comfortable with IEP meeting outcomes, due to formal and informal assessments that did not measure a studen's abilities, but only the student' s lack of prior knowledge regarding mainstream "cultural ways of knowing". My students and their parents, wanted to achieve academic goals, many wanted to go on to college, others wanted to have futures where they would be able to choose paths that would give them opportunities to find high paying jobs, and fulfilling work. They wanted the same thing other students wanted, who already had socio-economic advantages, in addition to the absence of stigma related to ethnic or linguistic backgrounds. I saw inequities in how students of color were disciplined, described, and I was seen as "strange, different, misguided", because I knew my students were able to meet grade- level goals, were often not placed in the correct classrooms, and even stuck in perpetual ELD courses, that were at times substandard. I fought to get them out of those courses, although some of the ELD teachers were very good, and able to help me, by working with me and giving me tools and advice. I had students who developed as gifted writers, others were phenomenal in math, technology , and I also had individuals who developed in other academic areas. I left teaching feeling weary and disgusted by my perception of the status quo that would never change. My own children, who both have achieved success , watched me in their early years , fighting my battles with several teachers who saw them as "underachieving, typical Latino children". I am "white", not bilingual, and wanted to give my children the ability to become dual language adults. I was not successful, both of them can understand Spanish, speak with limited vocabulary, also limited reading and writing skills in Spanish. I watched both my children struggle with dual identity, and situations where their Latino heritage was seen as an indicator of future stereotypical behaviors. I was relentless and vigilant , ready to take on any teacher that tried to exclude my children. My children are now adults, both doing extremely well. They both liked school, and both enjoyed academic subjects. They were well-liked by peers, and I was furious with teachers who pre-judged them and attempted to limit their opportunities. When I became a teacher, I was determined that my students would not be limited by some educators who were at best, unenlightened, at worst, stuck in some distant time warp, without keeping up with changing demographics and newer evidence-based practices. I completely agree that all students be educated with their peers in general education classrooms. Teachers with training like mine, can partner with other teachers to provide additional support. The system needs to change in order to best serve our communities.

Anonymous

If you want a child to read well then you read to/with them and make sure they have books to read. Whether a child is going to be a good reader is determined, by their parents, before they even step foot in a school.

Anonymous

They're also using restraint. Tying children of color to chairs. Locking Jewish kids in closets. pining down Hispanic children and suffocating them.

We are not talking about teenager.s We are not talking about late elementary.

We are talking 5 year old children in Kindergarten. 4 year old children in pre-k.

Locked in closets. Tied to chairs and left to wet themselves.

We need laws to take power away from schools and we need it now.

Former Navy

"Students of color"??? What are you talking about. ALL students have exactly the same rights, privileges and advantages. If those students do not apply themselves because of culture and ethnic upbringing what is President Trump supposed to do? Given them an education enema? Get real Mr. Michael Yudin. Do you think Barrack Obama was "held back" because he was a student of color? Admit it, sir. You have a gripe about President Trump so you slanted your story to blame him. We see it every day. BTW I am a former military member and boot camp instructor. I SAW first hand what schools sent post school to work with, and it was not good... both black and white, rich and poor, native born and foreign born....but these young men and women KNEW that the educators were the ones that did not prepare them (was it because of the greediness of the educators such as those in the Atlanta Cheating Scandal?). I now teach at the upper high school level, in an inner city high school. I make a difference because I have REAL WORLD EXPERIENCE, something 95% of the "teachers" do not have.

Deirdre Aldridg...

I don't understand this administration's animosity to everyone not white and able-bodied. How do you hate so much that you take it out on handicapped kids? It's not like it's going to make any difference in the Trump administration's life where Special Ed money gets spent, it's not like they can pocket the difference. It's just hatred.

Stay Informed