The Education Dept. (DoEd) proposes a new rule to better address widespread disparities in the treatment of students of color with disabilities, recommending sweeping changes in the delivery of services under the $12 billion Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The 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. Once identified as having a significant disproportionality, the district must set aside 15% of its IDEA, Part B (CDFA Number: 84.027) funds to provide comprehensive coordinated early intervening services. Further, the policies, practices, and procedures of the district must be reviewed, and — if necessary — revised to ensure IDEA compliance.
“We have a moral and a civil rights obligation to ensure that all students, with and without disabilities, are provided the tools they need to succeed, regardless of background,” said Acting U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. “IDEA exists for the purpose of ensuring that students get the unique services they need, and we owe it to them and to ourselves to uphold all of the law’s provisions.”
The proposed rule would also provide identified districts with new flexibility to support the needs of students. The department has proposed to broaden the allowable uses of the set aside, currently reserved for early intervening services. The new flexibility would include services to students with and without disabilities, from ages 3 through grade 12. Up until now, identified districts could only use these funds to support students without disabilities, and only in grades K through 12.
IDEA is intended to ensure fairness in the identification, placement, and discipline of students with disabilities. Yet disparities persist, and students of color remain more likely to be identified as having a disability and face harsher discipline than their white peers.
According to a new analysis by the department of data states submitted under IDEA, hundreds of districts around the country with large racial and ethnic disparities go unidentified. For example, 876 school districts gave African American students with disabilities short-term, out-of-school suspensions at least twice as often as all other students with disabilities for three years in a row.
The data clearly show that IDEA implementation is not fulfilling its intended purpose, King said.
Many children of color—particularly black and American Indian youth—are identified at substantially higher rates than their peers. It is critical to ensure that overrepresentation is not the result of misidentification, which can interfere with a school’s ability to provide children with the appropriate educational services required by law, King said.
Disparities are also prevalent in the discipline of students of color with disabilities. With the exception of Latino and Asian-American students, more than one out of four boys of color with disabilities (served by IDEA)—and nearly one in five girls of color with disabilities—receives an out-of-school suspension.