NCD Applauds New Proposed Rule by the Department of Education to Assist Students of Color with Disabilities

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February 23, 2016

The National Council on Disability (NCD) – an independent federal agency – applauds the new “Equity in IDEA” rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Education which seeks to address widespread disparities in the treatment of students of color with disabilities who too often enter the "school-to-prison pipeline,” which refers to all policies and practices that have the effect of pushing students – especially those most at risk – out of classrooms and into juvenile and criminal justice systems.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)—seeks to ensure fairness in the identification, placement, discipline and delivery of educational tools and resources to students with disabilities. IDEA requires states to identify “significant disproportionality” in school districts that identify, place outside the regular classroom, or discipline children from any racial or ethnic group at markedly higher rates than their peers.

In October 2014, NCD convened a stakeholder forum in Atlanta, Georgia to receive testimony on the role of special education in the school-to-prison pipeline, and the Department of Education participated in the event. Following the forum, in June 2015, in an attempt to address and propose solutions to these disparities, NCD issued its “Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline for Students with Disabilities” report, concluding that IDEA can and should be an important part of the solution to the school-to-prison pipeline crisis.

The Department of Education’s proposed “Equity in IDEA” rule would, for the first time, require states to implement a standard approach to compare racial and ethnic groups, with reasonable thresholds for determining when disparities have become significant in identification, placement, and discipline. That determination is critical to ensuring that all students get the supports they need and deserve to thrive and draws from a number of the recommendations made in NCD’s “Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline” report.

These recommendations include:  

  • Schools should develop data-driven early warning systems to identify students with academic and behavioral issues that puts them at risk of suspensions and expulsions often leading to entry into the juvenile justice and criminal justice systems. Once identified, more intensive general or special education services and supports should be provided.
  • The Department of Education should bolster efforts to monitor and enforce the provision of a Free Appropriate Public Education to students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment as guaranteed by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and IDEA.
  • Guidance setting forth minimum substantive standards for the quality and delivery of special education and related services, particularly as they relate to behavioral supports should be issued by the Department of Education.
  • The development of systems for evaluating implicit racial and disability bias in schools where minorities are overrepresented in identification, discipline, or placement, and implement implicit bias training in enforcement agreements and compliance reviews should be funded by the Department of Education.
  • The Department of Education should take affirmative steps to enforce mandatory data collection and reporting requirements and ensure the validation of data submitted.

“NCD applauds the Department of Education for echoing our recommendations in their Equity in IDEA Rule proposal,” said NCD Executive Director, Rebecca Cokley. “Studies reveal that up to 85 percent of youth in juvenile detention facilities have disabilities that make them eligible for special education services, yet surprisingly only an estimated 37 percent receive these services while in school. Disabled youth, particularly students of color, in the juvenile justice and criminal justice systems are deprived of an appropriate education that, if provided, could greatly expand options and opportunities. The proposals by the Department are an important step in correcting the current imbalance. We welcome these changes and remain available to provide guidance or assistance in their implementation.”