WASHINGTON, D.C., February 23, 2016 – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s (Lawyers’ Committee) President and Executive Director Kristen Clarke issued the following statement on the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed rule to promote equity in Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal special education law.
The proposed regulations seek to ensure that children are not misidentified and receive appropriate special education services by ensuring that states appropriately identify and address significant disproportionality based on race and ethnicity with regard to the identification, placement and discipline of students with disabilities. Evidence shows that students of color with disabilities are more likely to be suspended and expelled than white children with disabilities, and that suspensions are associated with negative student outcomes such as lower academic performance, higher dropout rates, lower graduation rates, and future disciplinary exclusion and juvenile justice involvement.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that states meaningfully identify districts with significant racial disproportionality and assist those districts to ensure that students with disabilities are properly identified for services, receive those services in the least restrictive environment, and are not disproportionately removed from their educational placements due to disciplinary removals. States that receive funding pursuant to the IDEA have been required to maintain data to ensure that students are not disproportionately identified or mislabeled along lines of race or ethnicity. States are also required to ensure that students with disabilities are not disciplined on the basis of their disability.
“Today’s proposed guidance is an important step in the ongoing effort to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline across our country,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We must confront the ways in which both race and disability status intersect to contribute to the current crisis faced by students who are unfairly and harshly disciplined. Students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension than students without disabilities and these disparities are even greater for African American boys. Today’s proposed rule, once finalized, will help promote greater accountability inside schools and promote actions to address the many ways in which minority students are marginalized inside our nation’s schools.”
The proposed rule is an important step in efforts to address the discipline disparities that students of color, especially those with disabilities, face across our nation’s schools. The rule, if finalized, would require states to implement a new standard approach that would help states identify any significant disproportionality based on race or ethnicity for all students, including students with visible and invisible disabilities and require that states take action to reduce any identified disparities.
Once disparities have been identified, school districts must set aside 15 percent of its IDEA Part B funds to address the issue. These funds will be used to provide comprehensive early intervention services for all students, helping to ensure that all students have an equal playing field and are able to succeed in a general education environment.
The comment close date will be 75 days after the date of publication in the federal register.