Civil Rights for Students with Disabilities Under Attack

November 17, 2017
Civil Rights for Students with Disabilities Under Attack

For Immediate Release 
November 17, 2017

Contact: David Card
202.408.9514 x122
[email protected]

WASHINGTON, DC – Leaders from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) are looking to roll back recently implemented reforms that ensure access to certain groups of children who have traditionally been removed from school at disparate rates. The issue of school discipline was discussed at a meeting today between ED officials and members of the press, a small number of public school staff, and parents.

“We are appalled that the Department of Education is moving to end these critical protections for students with disabilities,” said NDRN Executive Director Curt Decker. “It shakes the very foundation of public school: that all children are permitted to attend.”
The issue of school discipline reform, specifically reduction in the use of suspension and expulsion, has been well researched and discussed at length in numerous policy fora.  When developing the discipline guidance under review today, ED staff met diligently with stakeholder groups prior to finalizing it. The groups invited to today’s meeting had the opportunity to weigh in at that time. NDRN believes it is an inefficient use of government resources to begin this process all over again.

An important goal of this discipline guidance and related school climate reforms, is to provide teachers and administrators evidence based practices that teach and promote better behavior, especially as a response to low-level missteps, to avoid the use of suspension and expulsion. When properly supported, these approaches prevent the fights like the ones described by John Ekblad from occurring in the first place, and result in a more positive school environment for all students. Reform was needed because suspension and expulsion impact certain groups of students more severely than others, and implicit bias must be prevented from impacting the decisions of school staff meting out discipline. Other legislative reform efforts, including the reauthorization of the IDEA in 2004, came to the same conclusion.

“School staff need the resources, support and time to implement evidence based practices that prevent the need to remove students who engage in minor misbehavior from school,” continued Decker. “What they do not need is the chaos caused by changing the rules mid-stream.”

Additional Information: Schools Are Safer Now Post Reform

As was explained in a recent report, one of many on this topic, reducing suspension and expulsion does not result in chaos and injury.  Permitting its use for minor infractions results in hours of lost instruction for students from particular groups and results in inequality.  See for example: Lost Instruction: The Disparate Impact of the School Discipline Gap in California, Center for Civil Rights Remedies, Center for Civil Rights Remedies, Authors: Daniel J. Losen and Amir Whitaker, October 24, 2017)

“…Most notable is that the survey results on students’ sense of safety for the most recent year available, 2016-17, (figure 7) show that safety ratings for middle and high school students are at the highest level in five years, higher than before the new suspension policy was implemented and more than making up the initial decline. Specifically, following the initial dip, LAUSD students’ reported sense of safety grew to 88% for the middle school and 84% for the high school—the highest it has been for students in those groups in the last 5 years. This evidence runs counter to the frequent argument that a policy change intended to lower the use of suspension will cause the learning environment to become chaotic and unsafe.

Equally important, out of the nearly 50,000 LAUSD school staff members surveyed in 2016-17, more than 80% at all grade levels feel that school discipline problems were handled fairly, and more than 75% felt that discipline was handled effectively. … [S]taff at all levels report that student behavior is less problematic since the abolition of suspension for disruption/defiance. … Moreover, the assumption that kicking out the “disruptive” students is likely beneficial is based on a false dichotomy that students are either disruptive or non-disruptive, and that this is some immutable characteristic or deficit within the student. “

In fact, children with disabilities are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. They are restrained and secluded, bullied, harassed and arrested by school resource officers at higher rates than other students.  See: U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, CIVIL RIGHTS DATA COLLECTION Data Snapshot: School Discipline Issue Brief No. 1 (March 2014).

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The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) is the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and the Client Assistance Programs (CAP) for individuals with disabilities. Collectively, the Network is the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States.