In an average US classroom, roughly one in seven students — or about three students per classroom — receive special education services.
But last week, those students’ right to a fair education may have fallen into jeopardy.
On Friday, the US Department of Education announced it had rescinded 72 guidance documents aimed at ensuring the protection of students with disabilities.
According to the Washington Post, the documents “fleshed out” protections for students with disabilities guaranteed under two federal laws, the Rehabilitation Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) — signed in 1973 and 1997, respectively.
The documents outlined various rights for students with disabilities, including fair access to appropriate preschool education and vocational training. They also included information about how much federal money schools can set aside for special education and how parents can advocate for their disabled children through the legal system. Some had been issued as recently as 2014, while others dated back to 1980.
But the report from the DOE said those 72 protections are now outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective.
The DOE’s action does not necessarily change any policies outlined in the original Rehabilitation Act or IDEA, Newsy reports. Rather, it removes newer guidelines related to how to implement them in public schools.
According to the Post, disabilities advocates are still reviewing what the impact of the DOE’s decision will be.
“All of these [guidance documents] 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,” Lindsay E. Jones, the chief policy and advocacy officer for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, told the Washington Post.
Jones noted that the guidances may have been eliminated to get rid of redundancies, but said 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,” Jones said.
Across the country, roughly 6.6 million students received special education services, which is about 13% of all public school students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Worldwide, anywhere from 93 to 150 million children age 0-14 have disabilities, but they are significantly less likely than children without disabilities to get an education, the WHO reports.
Around the world, half of male students with a disability completed primary school, versus 60% of male students without one. Likewise, just 40% of female students with a disability attained a primary school education, in comparison with 53% of students who don’t suffer from one.
In the United States, students with learning disabilities are more likely to complete primary school, and high school, than their counterparts around the world.
According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), 68% of children with learning disabilities graduated high school in the US 2012.
But the NCLD report notes that the number of students receiving special education services in public high schools has decreased by 3% nationwide since 2002. And roughly two in three parents say that their child’s school doesn’t provide any information on learning disabilities.
Guidelines like the ones that were just eliminated were important because they clarified regulations that ensured disabled students receive a “free, appropriate public education,” according to Rep. Robery C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA).
Sen. Kamala Harris also called out the decision on Twitter, writing: “This Administration’s campaign against students with disabilities continues. We should be doing more, not less, to help them.”
Parents and school administrators have also spoken out against the announcement. Some have used the hashtag #ThisIsMyChild to protest the removal of the guidelines:
Protecting the rights of students with disabilities (abilities) should not be considered an administrative burden https://t.co/HiXyQWt6zO— Supt Runcie (@RobertwRuncie) October 23, 2017
I not only have children with special needs, I work with them and I’m getting my doctorate in special-education. I find the removal of these guidelines absolutely disgusting. I love the children I work with and I love my autistic son. #ThisIsMyChildpic.twitter.com/71BSjg3TC9— Cuppa Covfefe (@Lunaseas1) October 22, 2017
This announcement comes in the wake of several motions made by the Department of Education under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to roll back federal education regulations and guidelines.
In September, DeVos got rid of an Obama-era regulation that put in place rules for investigating sexual assault cases. Before that, she rolled back protections for transgender students.
Currently, 17 states and DC are suing the Department of Education for freezing an Obama-era regulation that prevented for-profit colleges from collecting on federal loans to low-income students.
Global Citizen advocates for students around the world to get an education, regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status. You can take action here.