Removal of IDEA guidance gives DeVos new headache

Removal of IDEA guidance gives DeVos new headache

(District of Columbia) U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has entangled herself in yet another policy dustup, but this time the adversary carries potent political muscle—families of students with disabilities.

Late last week it came to light that the Trump administration had quietly removed from public use some 72 guidance documents, including widely used directories covering transitional planning for young adults, and one detailing the arcane legal components to due process guarantees.

The move came as part of the president’s order to eliminate “unnecessary” regulations. And while there is some evidence that what the department rescinded were indeed outdated documents, some powerful advocates are concerned about the manner in which the federal agency acted.

“I am concerned that the process by which the Department of Education made this announcement caused confusion and worry among families and advocates, particularly given Secretary DeVos’ troubling record failing to recognize the rights of students with disabilities,” said U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., in a statement.

It might be one thing for a Republican administration to cross swords with teacher unions or even big city mayors over education funding or policy. Provoking the community surrounding students with disabilities is quite another.

The battles fought back in the 1970s to ensure access to public education for SWD were waged on a bipartisan basis. Virtually every piece of legislation that has since been adopted either by Congress or in individual states has drawn on support from both sides of aisle, no doubt because the challenges that SWD face along with those of their families are the same regardless of party affiliation.

Going against that lobby is a steep hill to climb, as President Ronald Reagan famously found out when he tried to trim special education spending in 1982.

It was with perhaps this realpolitik in mind that DeVos’ office moved quickly this week to give the advocacy community more context for what was removed and why.

Officials said that much of the guidance in question references programs or regulations that now do not exist or have been replaced by more recent guidance on a topic.

 “There are no policy implications to these rescissions,” said Elizabeth Hill, an Education Department spokeswoman, in a statement. “The department is clearing out guidance that is no longer in force or effect because the guidance is superseded by current law/guidance or out of date,” she added. “Students with disabilities and their advocates will see no impact on services provided.”

Meanwhile on Wednesday afternoon, DeVos’ press deputy also issued a release noting October as learning disability and dyslexia awareness month.

“Every child has unique challenges and abilities, and children with dyslexia are no different–they simply learn differently,” DeVos said in a statement.