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DOE and DOJ Rescind School Discipline Guidance Protecting Students With Disabilities

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On Friday, the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Justice announced they have rescinded 2014 guidance set under President Barack Obama that added additional guidelines for school discipline for minority students and students with disabilities. Betsy DeVos made the announcement, which follows a new report reviewing the previous school discipline policies. She, along with the Departments of Education and Justice, determined pre-existing federal protections aare enough to protect all students.

The 2014 school discipline guidance was issued under President Barack Obama’s administration. Known as the “Dear Colleague letter,” it was designed to protect students who are typically discriminated against in school policies, acknowledging that minority students and students with disabilities are disproportionately affected by current school discipline practices.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Federal Commission on School Safety, which was instated by President Donald Trump following the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in February 2018, released its report to improve school safety. The commission is chaired by DeVos.

Among other recommendations, the report said that a 2014 guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice ensuring minority students and students with disabilities aren’t unfairly disciplined should be abandoned. According to its report, the commission came to this conclusion after consulting teachers, parents, mental health professionals, law enforcement officers and school safety officials.

The report stated:

The Commission is deeply troubled that the Guidance, while well-intentioned, may have paradoxically contributed to making schools less safe. Significant concerns also remain regarding the legal framework upon which the Guidance is based. These concerns, together with the repeated concerns expressed by many that disciplinary decisions are best left in the hands of classroom teachers and administrators, warrant rescission of the Guidance.

Screenshot of page 74 of the report

However, the commission’s report and the resulting decision to rescind the 2014 protections fail to address the issue of why the guidelines were created in the first place. Statistics show that kids in special education represent just 12 percent of students across the country, but account for about 20 percent of suspensions and expulsions and almost a quarter of school-related arrests. In addition, 71 percent of those restrained and 66 percent of those secluded in schools were students with disabilities.

DeVos’ prompt decision to rescind the guidance and the commission’s recommendations to remove the Obama-era policies have alarmed disability advocates. Curt Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, said about the report:

The guidance provides important information to schools to prevent discrimination and is completely unrelated to the commission’s charge. Rescinding this guidance would not have prevented a single school shooting.

The federal report also recommends adding more school resources officers, which Decker said could create unnecessary physical restraint of students with disabilities.

“Data shows that increasing the number of school resource officers results in higher arrest rates and physical restraints for some groups of students, particularly students with disabilities,” Decker said in a public statement. “Any school resource officers who do work in schools must be thoroughly trained in how to appropriately interact with all students.”

After DeVos announced the decision to officially rescind the policies, other education advocates weighed in on social media:

Originally published: December 21, 2018
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