(2016, December) | Useful to Parent Centers, stakeholders, and advocates concerned with addressing the significant disproportionality with which students from specific ethnic or racial groups are placed in special education.
On December 12, 2016, the U.S. Department of Education released final regulations under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), aimed at promoting equity by targeting widespread disparities in the treatment of students of color with disabilities. The regulations address a number of issues related to significant disproportionality in the identification, placement, and discipline of students with disabilities based on race or ethnicity. The Department also released a new Dear Colleague Letter addressing racial discrimination.
Summary of New Final Rule | This rule sets a common standard for identifying significant disproportionality in representation of students within special education, segregated school settings, and in receipt of disciplinary actions. It also ensures that school districts where disproportionality is found carefully review their policies and practices to determine root causes and whether changes are needed. The final rule ensures that school districts explore and address situations where the cause of significant disproportionality is due to under-identification of a group as well as over-identification.
Read the Department’s Fact Sheet: Equity in IDEA
Read the PDF (587 kb) of the Final Rule on Disproportionality
Read the PDF (450 kb) of the Dear Colleague Letter on Racial Discrimination
More about These Final Regulations
As U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. remarked, “Today’s new regulations and supporting documents provide the necessary guidance and support to school districts and build upon the work from public education advocates and local leaders who believe, like we do, that we need to address racial and ethnic disparities in special education.”
In order to address those inequities, IDEA requires states to identify districts with “significant disproportionality” in special education—that is, when districts identify, place in more restrictive settings, or discipline children from any racial or ethnic group at markedly higher rates than their peers. Children of color—particularly African-American and American Indian youth—are identified as students with disabilities at substantially higher rates than their peers. It is critical to ensure that:
- overrepresentation is not the result of misidentification, including both over- and under-identification, which can interfere with a school’s ability to provide children with the appropriate educational services required by law; and
- all children who are suspected of having a disability are evaluated and, as appropriate, receive needed special education and related services in the most appropriate setting and with the most appropriate discipline strategies employed.
More about the Dear Colleague Letter
At the same time as the final IDEA rule on disproportionality was released, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a policy document to support educators and administrators as they work to identify students’ need for special education. This new policy document was created to remind states, school districts, and public schools of their legal obligation to prevent discrimination on the basis of race in special education. OCR’s enforcement experience suggests both over-identification and under-identification based on race are occurring in schools.
Specifically, the Dear Colleague Letter explains the Title VI requirement that students of all races and national origins have equitable access to general education interventions and to a timely referral for an evaluation for disability under the IDEA or Section 504; and that students of all races and national origins be treated equitably in the evaluation process, in the quality of special education services and supports they receive, and in the degree of restrictiveness of their educational environment.
The letter outlines how to avoid racial discrimination in the referral for disability evaluation, the evaluation process itself, and the provision of special education. It also provides 10 illustrative examples that provide further guidance on those processes.
Access OCR’s Dear Colleague Letter (PDF, 450 kb)