Significant Disproportionality: What Happens Now?

There is finally some good news on the significant disproportionality front: The U.S. Department of Education’s delay of the 2016 Equity in IDEA regulations has been found to be illegal.

Update: The U.S. Department appealed the decision but the appeal was dismissed in September 2019.

The long history of Equity in IDEA regulations

Issued in 2016, the Equity in IDEA regulations aimed to help schools systematically address disparities that exist for students of color in special education. The regulations provided a method for states to identify schools in which students of color were inappropriately being identified as needing special education, placed in inappropriate educational settings, or suspended, expelled, secluded and restrained at disparate rates. These regulations were intended to be a way to spot the districts that had challenges in these areas and to ensure that students receive necessary services, have the opportunity to learn in the least restrictive environment, and are not removed from the classroom unnecessarily. These regulations were set to take effect in July 2018.  

Then, in 2018, just before the regulations were set to take effect — and after receiving hundreds of comments urging the U.S. Department of Education to move forward with implementing the Equity in IDEA regulations — Secretary Betsy DeVos delayed them until 2020. By 2020, the department would plan to have new regulations that would replace the Equity in IDEA regulations.

Shortly after the delay was announced, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) sued, asking the court to stop the delay and require immediate implementation of the regulations. COPAA alleged that the Education Department violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). COPAA reasoned that the regulations are essential to providing a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to children of color. Each day that the regulations are not implemented, more and more students are being inappropriately identified as needing special education, placed in segregated settings, and removed from the classroom.

In March 2019, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia sided with COPAA and required that the regulations go into effect immediately.

What’s next for implementation?

Because the regulations are currently in effect, states must begin implementing these regulations immediately. The Education Department has said that they are gathering from states information related to implementation and will work with states if any issues arise.

After years of anticipation for these regulations to take effect, NCLD is hopeful for what is to come. With adequate support, assistance and resources from the Education Department and other stakeholders, these regulations have the potential to help states identify the schools facing the greatest challenges with disproportionality and change their practices in a powerful and sustainable way. In turn, countless students of color will benefit from the opportunity to participate in general education classrooms in a meaningful way and achieve at high levels.

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