Gender, Policy, Inequality

Betsy DeVos just made it much harder to be anything but white, straight, cis, and able-bodied

DeVos scrapped documents that outline the rights of students with disabilities despite advocates' protests.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is back at it: making it harder and scarier to be anything but a white, straight, cis, able-bodied male in educational environments. Whether she’s making it harder for sexual assault victims to receive justice, making jokes about needing guns to fend off grizzly bears in schools, or putting her foot in her mouth and declaring HBCUs were conceived in the spirit of “free choice,” she’s always doing more harm to the United States educational system than good. This time, she’s taken a crack at disabled students and their rights.

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services recently stated that in its newsletter that “a total of 72 guidance documents… have been rescinded due to being outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective – 63 from the Office of Special Education Programs, and 9 from the Rehabilitation Services Administration.”

The guidance documents, officially rescinded on Oct. 2, 2017, includes a lot of legal jargon that may be confusing to some. In short, the documents outlined many policies, from the way federal funds should be used most effectively by public schools to guidelines regarding services to Native American children on reservations. They also included information about parental training and “clarifications on state eligibility and public participation.”

At the present moment, it doesn’t seem the Department of Education has proposed any new guidelines. Lindsay E. Jones, the chief policy and advocacy officer for the National Center for Learning Disabilities voiced concern about the removal of documents outlining how schools may use federal funds for special education. Jones also noted that while it is not unheard of for new administrations to update or cut policies, it is alarming because so many guidelines were nixed at once. These documents were supposed to help disabled students, their parents, and their schools understand and properly implement procedures that guaranteed students’ rights. Without these clarifications, it may be harder for parents to advocate for their children and for schools to utilize resources that benefit disabled students.

Rep. Robert C. Scott (D-Va.) asserted in a statement that just because the guidelines have been rescinded does not mean the guidelines are going away; the regulations will still be enforced, but now they lack clarification that is essential for students, school districts, and families.

The massive cut seems to come as a result of an executive order President Trump signed in February to remove “unnecessary regulatory burdens” across federal agencies.

It’s suspect, however, that the Department of Education would choose to eliminate guidelines that are helpful for disabled students.

These documents do not appear to be a burden on anyone; on the contrary, they clear up confusion and help schools understand the laws surrounding special education. The Trump administration has a blatant and sickening history of chipping away at the rights of the most vulnerable and underrepresented communities. This latest action from the Department of Education just seems like a reflection of the administration’s disregard for individuals who need their rights secured.

It also reflects Betsy DeVos’s glaring ignorance of special education in general. During her Senate confirmation hearing, she said that she “may have been confused” about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a civil rights law that was established 42 years ago. Her unfamiliarity with special education, children of color who have disabilities, and federal education laws raised red flags both at her hearing and in advocacy circles.

It remains to be seen if the rescinded guidelines will be updated or if students with disabilities will face more obstacles to appropriate education due to lack of legal clarification.