The Education Department said Monday its rollback of 72 special education policy guidance documents will have no effect on services provided to students with disabilities, whose advocates expressed alarm at the revisions.
“There are absolutely no policy implications to these rescission,” said Elizabeth Hill, a spokeswoman for Secretary Betsy DeVos. “Students with disabilities and their advocates will see no impact on services provided.”
In a list provided Monday to The Washington Post, the department explained why it phased out each of the 72 policy documents, many of which clarified for students, parents and educators how the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act works. The department said it scrapped a 2006 document that explained the rights of children with disabilities in private schools because the document had been updated in 2011. One 2007 document outlines a vocational program for students with disabilities that no longer exists, the department said. Another document — a 2012 letter which outlines the rights of preschoolers with disabilities — was updated in 2016.
When DeVos has rescinded department guidance in the past, it signaled a shift in policy. She rolled back Obama-era guidance that directed schools to allow transgender children to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity, saying she believes state and local authorities are better equipped to make those decisions. She also scrapped the “Dear Colleague” letter that outlined how schools should investigate sexual assaults, saying it did not adequately account for the rights of the accused.
The move to eliminate the special education guidance documents concerned the disability rights community and some lawmakers. The department sought input from disability rights groups before making the changes Oct. 2 but notified them more than two weeks after the 72 guidance documents were wiped from the books. Many advocates only learned of the decision Friday, when the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services sent out a newsletter with a list of the documents. The communication provided no explanation as to why the regulations had been purged, except to say they were “outdated, unnecessary or ineffective.”
“I am concerned that the process by which the Department of Education made this announcement caused confusion and worry among families and advocates, particularly given Secretary DeVos’s troubling record of failing to recognize the rights of students who experience disabilities, and I will work with my colleagues to ensure that the rights of these students are protected,” said Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.). During her confirmation hearing in January, DeVos got confused when Hassan, whose son has a severe disability, grilled her about special education law.
Monday, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) tweeted: “This administration’s campaign against students with disabilities continues. We should be doing more, not less, to help them.”
Professor Bill Koski, director of the Youth and Education Law Project at Stanford University, said he reviewed many of the documents on the list and did not believe the move would effect how schools accommodate students with disabilities.
“It does look like housekeeping to me more than anything else,” Koski said. “I don’t know that it will change practice in any way.”