Trump Administration Rescinds Guidance Amid Objections From Disability Advocates
Guidance issued during the Obama administration, which was aimed at ensuring that minorities and students with disabilities weren’t unfairly disciplined, is no more.
The U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Education indicated in late December that a 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter informing schools of their responsibilities when meting out discipline has officially been rescinded.
The move came just days after a federal school safety panel chaired by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recommended abandoning the guidance.
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The Justice Department said that the “Dear Colleague” letter was one of 69 guidance documents being revoked because they were deemed “unnecessary, outdated, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper.” The agency said the decision was in line with a 2017 executive order from President Donald Trump calling for federal entities to identify regulations for “repeal, replacement or modification.”
DeVos was more specific, however, citing concerns that the guidance put too much emphasis on statistics.
“Every student has the right to attend school free from fear of discrimination,” DeVos said. “In too many instances, though, I’ve heard from teachers and advocates that the previous administration’s discipline guidance often led to school environments where discipline decisions were based on a student’s race and where quotas became more important than the safety of students and teachers.”
Rescinding the guidance “makes it clear that discipline is a matter on which classroom teachers and local school leaders deserve and need autonomy,” DeVos said.
The “Dear Colleague” letter detailed how educators should prevent discipline from being administered in a way that disproportionately impacts certain children. Specifically, the document said that federal law prohibits “discriminatory discipline” based on race, disability and other factors.
In issuing the guidance, the Obama administration noted that just 12 percent of students across the country were enrolled in special education, but they represented about 20 percent of suspensions and expulsions and nearly a quarter of school-related arrests.
Disability advocates denounced the move to abandon the guidance.
“With the rescission of the discipline guidance, Secretary DeVos has communicated to our nation’s children with disabilities and children of color that they are not valuable and that the negative, disparate experiences they face at school do not matter,” said Denise Marshall, executive director of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates. “Unfortunately, the rescission is likely to foster the growth of racially discriminatory practices where implicit bias and other negative factors disproportionately impact students with disabilities and students of color, including the use of abusive practices such as seclusion and restraint.”
Nonetheless, advocates stressed that while the guidance helped schools understand their responsibilities to students, revoking it does not do anything to change the underlying law.
In addition to the “Dear Colleague” letter on school discipline, the Trump administration also said it would rescind a handful of supporting documents that were issued at the same time.