Federal judge rules DeVos illegally delayed Obama-era special education rule

A federal judge ruled Thursday that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos illegally delayed an Obama-era rule that would force states to rectify racial inequities in special education programs.

U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan said DeVos’s delay was “arbitrary and capricious.” Her ruling invalidates DeVos’s decision and will allow the rule to immediately go into effect over agency leaders’ expressed concerns over “racial quotas.”

{mosads}The provision, which was passed under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) near the end of the Obama administration, required states to identify school districts with “significant disproportionality” in the number of students of color put in special education programs or restraining classroom settings or were disciplined.

DeVos delayed the rule after siding with advocates who believed racial disparities were not results of efforts to push students out of special education programs but instead emblematic of districts’ struggles to properly train teachers and that implementing the rule could result in unfair quotas. 

“The Secretary is concerned that the regulations will create an environment where children in need of special education and related services do not receive those services because of the color of their skin,” the department wrote at the time.

However, Chutkan wrote in her decision in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that DeVos’s concerns over quotas “did not have adequate support in the rulemaking record” and that she violated the law by not giving a “reasoned explanation” for the delay.

“Today’s court ruling is a major victory for students and parents and an important step toward ensuring that all students have access to a high-quality, equitable education in a safe and healthy environment. The Equity in IDEA rule is necessary to address the over-representation, inappropriate placement, and over-discipline of students of color in special education,” Rep. Bob Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said in a statement.

“By forcing the Trump administration to implement the rule, the court’s ruling will put us back on a track toward reversing systemic racial discrimination in education,” he said. “The court’s ruling confirms our suspicion that the Education Department’s delay of the Equity in IDEA rule had no basis in evidence or facts.”

DeVos, a vocal charter school advocate before being tapped to helm the Education Department, has drawn the ire of civil rights and public education groups since her nomination. Progressive groups have rebuked her over refusing to study the impact of guns on school shootings and her proposed overhaul of sexual misconduct rules on university campuses.

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