On March 7, 2019, the US District Court in Washington D.C. ruled that the current Department of Education had acted arbitrarily and capriciously in failing to implement Obama-era rules which are intended to address the disparities in the treatment of students of color with disabilities. A summary of the action was issued by the Council of Parent Advocates and Attorneys (COPAA):
- The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that the U.S. Department of Education (the Department) had engaged in an ‘illegal delay’ of the 2016 Equity in IDEA regulations. Those regulations, which were supposed to go into effect on July 1, 2018, implement the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requirements relating to significant racial disproportionality. The federal court’s ruling requires those 2016 final regulations to immediately go into effect.
- The decision comes as a result of a lawsuit filed against the Department by COPAA, who were represented by the National Center for Youth Law.
- The suit, filed on July 12, 2018, alleged that the Department’s delay violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).
- “Today is a victory for children, especially children of color and others who are at-risk for being inappropriately identified for special education,” said COPAA’s executive director, Denise Marshall.
- “COPAA, with the support of parents whose children who have been harmed by unlawful suspensions, assignments to segregated and restrictive classrooms, and improper decisions of both under and over identification for special education, took legal steps to fight the Department. The court has sided with the children whom the Department had deemed unimportant through its actions to delay implementation of the Equity in IDEA regulations.”
- “While identification of children for special education is deeply complex, the court has made clear that the Department’s position – that the regulations would have caused [state-determined] quotas for special education – is unfounded. Today’s decision assures States will be required to help their districts who have historically discriminated against children and provide those children with early intervening services rather than ordering their suspension and expulsion from school.”
- Of particular note is the court’s decision that the Department violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) by writing, “First, [the Department] failed to provide a reasoned explanation for delaying the 2016 Regulations. Second, [the Department] failed to consider the costs of delay, rendering the Delay Regulation arbitrary and capricious,” as COPAA had alleged. Furthermore, COPAA’s ‘associational’ standing was upheld by court, which means among other legalities that they have the credibility and legal right to protect the interest of children with disabilities in this matter.
- “Students and families will benefit from this ruling because their states and school districts will have clear rules about significant racial disproportionality in special education,” said the National Center for Youth Law’s Executive Director Jesse Hahnel.
- Marshall concluded, “As an organization that for 21 years has held up its mission to advocate for the civil rights of students with disabilities, we especially thank the families that stood with us in this fight to protect the rights and opportunities of children. The federal government must prioritize children and ensure they have access and equity to achieve their full potential in our schools.”