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DeVos moves to delay Obama-era rule on minority special-education students

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

(Update, clarifying the Federal Register notice)

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is seeking public comment on a plan to delay the implementation of an Obama-era rule that is intended to prevent schools from unnecessarily pushing minority students into special education.

The Education Department published a note in the Federal Register on Tuesday that says it wants to delay for two years the rule that was intended to be implemented starting in the 2018-2019 school year.

The department did not respond to a query about why it was doing this, but the notice says that it is doing it to make sure that the rule’s “effectiveness” can be ensured. The Hill newspaper had reported recently that states, districts, superintendents and others had raised concerns about the rule. Administrators have expressed concern about the cost of implementation, while advocates for students with disabilities have said it is an important step to protect minority children.

This is one of a number of Obama-era regulations and rules that DeVos has rolled back or delayed, and it is possible that DeVos could decide to eliminate it altogether.

For example, her first major policy act was to support a decision by President Trump to rescind the previous administration’s guidance protecting the right of transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice. She also changed Obama’s guidance on how schools should investigate sexual assault allegations, a move that survivors said undermined them. And the department rescinded 72 policy documents detailing the rights of students with disabilities that it said were outdated or repetitive.

The Obama administration set what is called the “significant disproportionality” rule after a 2013 report by the U.S. General Accountability Office found that only 2 percent of states had reported that students of color were overrepresented in special-education programs. Such an accounting was required in the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the federal K-12 law addressing special education.

President Barack Obama’s Education Department finalized the rule in late 2016, noting that African American and American Indian youth are identified by schools as having disabilities at rates higher than their peers and that minority students with disabilities were disciplined and removed from regular-education classes at higher rates than their peers.

Congress required districts to collect and report data on the demographics and treatment of special-education students, but they were allowed to use their own collection methods. The rule attempts to standardize the way districts identify and then serve minority students with disabilities.

Here’s what the department is doing now: