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COPAA Asks Court to Compel DeVos to Stop Delaying Critical Special Education Regulations

Tuesday, October 2, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Denise Marshall


WASHINGTON, DC – The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) responded to the U.S. Department of Education’s effort to throw its lawsuit out of court on technicalities by asking the court to end Secretary DeVos’ arbitrary delay of important regulations intended to address significant racial and ethnic disproportionality in the treatment of children with disabilities, 

Selene Almazan, Esq., legal director for the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) issued the following statement:

“When Secretary DeVos delayed these important regulations around significant racial disproportionality in the treatment of children with disabilities, COPAA immediately sued. 

“DeVos is trying to get our lawsuit thrown out because our members supposedly weren’t injured by her actions.  That’s not true.  COPAA and our members and children with disabilities all over the country have been injured by Devos’ delay. The reality is that, absent this regulation being in force, school districts will continue to look the other way while students of color are over- and under- identified for special education services, mis-assigned to more restrictive settings, and discipline with harsh practices such as suspension and expulsion; each its own form of discrimination against our most vulnerable students.

“We know that at least four states -- Colorado, Maine, Missouri, and South Dakota -- are taking advantage of the delay.  And we have shown the court that those states are identifying zero or one school districts as significantly disproportionate, while they would have identified dozens if the federal regulation hadn’t been delayed. This means too few students are getting the comprehensive coordinated early intervening supports and services they are entitled to under federal law.

“This delay needs to end.  That’s why COPAA asked the court not only to reject DeVos’ technical arguments, but also to enter a judgment in favor of COPAA.  Our filing demonstrates that DeVos’ decision to delay was arbitrary and capricious.  

“We don’t know when the court will decide this case, but we are hopeful the court will act in time for states and school districts to come into compliance for this school year.”

Background on the pending lawsuit:

The Equity in IDEA regulations require States to update their method in determining which of their school districts may be engaging in unlawful practices that result in significantly disproportionate numbers of students of color being inappropriately identified as students with disabilities, being placed in inappropriate educational settings and being inappropriately suspended, expelled, secluded and restrained. On July 3, 2018, the Department published the final notice in the Federal Register to delay the compliance date for the 2016 final Equity in IDEA regulations implementing the IDEA requirement addressing significant disproportionality.  COPAA filed its lawsuit on July 12, 2018.

The significant disproportionality provision was intended to serve as an early-warning system for possible problems, analogous to a “check engine” light.  When a State identifies racially significant disproportionality in a school district’s identification, placement, or discipline of students with disabilities, the State must review of the school district’s policies, practices, and procedures to ensure they comply with the IDEA; engage in an analysis that identifies the factors contributing to the significant disproportionality, i.e., a root–cause analysis; and spend a percentage of their IDEA funds on comprehensive coordinated intervention services. There is no requirement that a school district eliminate a significant disproportionality if the disproportionality is not a result of violations of the IDEA but instead reflects differences among different student populations in that community.

COPAA believes these regulations are necessary for IDEA to fulfill its intended purpose of ensuring children with disabilities get the education services they need in the most appropriate setting without regard to their race.

COPAA is represented in this lawsuit by the National Center for Youth Law and Sidley Austin LLP.


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