The US Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos has rescinded 72 policy documents that will affect disabled students, the very memos that guide schools on how to safeguard the rights of those with disabilities.
“A total of 72 guidance documents” have been gutted for being “outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective”, according to The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in a newsletter on October 20, as reported by The Washington Post.
— Gregory Mansfield (@GHMansfield) October 21, 2017
The documents, which constituted students’ rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Rehabilitation Act, were rescinded on October 2.
It is still unclear what the move will mean for disabled students in practical terms, as The Chicago Tribune reports that campaigners for disabled students are still reviewing the impact the changes will make.
Lindsay Jones, the chief policy and advocacy officer for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, told The Chicago Tribune that she was particularly concerned to see guidance documents outlining how schools could use federal special education money removed.
“All of these are meant to be very useful . . . in helping schools and parents understand and fill in with concrete examples the way the law is meant to work when it’s being implemented in various situations,” said Jones.
New administrations updating documents or removing redundancies are common, according to Jones. But not the wholesale removal of policy documents in one swoop.
“If the documents that are on this list are all covered in newer documents that were released – which sometimes does happen – that would be fine. Our goal is to make sure that parents and schools and educators understand how these laws work and the department plays a critical role in that,” Jones concluded.
The rescinding of documents is part of Donald Trump’s executive order to “to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens”, announced in February. This order assigned a Regulatory Reform Officer to ensure the reform of policies of governmental departments. Among the policies that required reviewing included regulations that “eliminate jobs, or inhibit job creation; are outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective; [or], impose costs that exceed benefit.”
Following this, the Education Department began a review of all their policies. Other guidance policies that have been cut since include those on how institutions should handle sexual assault claims, and transgender rights in schools.
DeVos justifies her actions by claiming that it is not the Education Department’s responsibility to make decisions for schools, instead local officials are the ones who should decide what is best for the individual area.
US Representative for Virginia’s 3rd congressional district and member of the Democratic Party, Robert Cortez Scott (also known as Bobby Scott), told The Chicago Tribune the elimination of the special education guidance is “the latest in a series of disturbing actions taken by the Trump Administration to undermine civil rights for vulnerable Americans”
Betsy DeVos, 1st attacked trans students, then rape victims. Now it's kids w disability. WTF!?!
— Josie Lavigne (@acupojo) October 21, 2017
According to The Idaho Statesman, the Education Department gathered comments regarding policy changes to special needs education and held a hearing, following Trump’s regulation lift in February. Many disability rights groups protested against the changing of policy and education officials spoke out on the importance of the disability guidance documents.