The Education Department has rescinded 72 policy documents that outline the rights of students with disabilities as part of the Trump administration's effort to eliminate regulations it deems superfluous.
The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services wrote in a newsletter Friday that it had "a total of 72 guidance documents that have been rescinded due to being outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective - 63 from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and 9 from the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA)." The documents, which fleshed out students' rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Rehabilitation Act, were rescinded Oct. 2.
A spokeswoman for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos did not respond to requests for comment.
Advocates for students with disabilities were still reviewing the changes to determine their impact. Lindsay Jones, the chief policy and advocacy officer for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, said she was particularly concerned to see guidance documents outlining how schools could use federal special education money removed.
"All of these are meant to be very useful . . . in helping schools and parents understand and fill in with concrete examples the way the law is meant to work when it's being implemented in various situations," said Jones.
President Donald Trump in February signed an executive order "to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens," spurring Education Department officials to begin a top-to-bottom review of its regulations. The department sought comments on possible changes to the special education guidance and held a hearing, during which many disability rights groups and other education advocates pressed officials to keep all of the guidance documents in place, said Jones.
This is not the first time DeVos has rolled back Education Department guidance, moves that have raised the ire of civil rights groups. The secretary in February rescinded guidance that directed schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms in accordance with their gender identity, saying that those matters should be left up to state and local school officials. In September, she scrapped rules that outlined how schools should investigate allegations of sexual assault, arguing that the Obama-era guidance did not sufficiently take into account the rights of the accused.
Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, D-Va., called the elimination of the special education guidance "the latest in a series of disturbing actions taken by the Trump Administration to undermine civil rights for vulnerable Americans."
"Much of the guidance around [the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] focused on critical clarifications of the regulations required to meet the needs of students with disabilities and provide them a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment," Scott said in a statement. "Notwithstanding the actions taken by the Department today, the regulations still remained enforced; however they lack the clarification the guidance provided."
The special education guidance documents rescinded this month clarified the rights of disabled students in a number of areas, including making clear how schools could spend federal money set aside for special education. Some, like one titled "Questions and Answers on Serving Children with Disabilities Placed by Their Parents at Private Schools," translated the legal jargon into plain English for parents advocating for their children. Some of the guidance documents that were cut had been on the books since 1980s.
Jones said it is not unusual for new administrations to update documents or to eliminate redundancies, but she had never seen so many eliminated at one time.
"If the documents that are on this list are all covered in newer documents that were released - which sometimes does happen - that would be fine," said Jones." Our goal is to make sure that parents and schools and educators understand how these laws work and the department plays a critical role in that."