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Last Updated: 01/15/2018

 Article of Interest - IDEA Reauthorization

Minority Children With Disabilities Will Be Harmed In Disproportionate Numbers If IDEA’s Discipline Safeguards Are Reduced or Eliminated
from Harvard University's Civil Rights Project, January 30, 2003
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Fueled by the “Zero Tolerance” movement’s embrace of harsh and swift punishment for even minor misbehavior, some in Congress have called for amending the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (likely this spring) to reduce or eliminate critical due process requirements. Under current law – in response to unwarranted removals from school, and a general pattern of denying access to educational opportunity - students with disabilities have protection from unjust disciplinary removal and denial of educational opportunities. The evidence on school discipline, school violence and racial disproportionality suggests that these protections are especially important for children of color who are disciplined at much higher rates than non-minority children. There are areas where we should be discussing how IDEA can be strengthened and improved upon, but taking away the due process rights of children with disabilities should not be part of that discussion.

Among children with disabilities, Latino, Native American, and African American children are substantially more likely than whites to be suspended, removed by school personnel, or removed by a hearing officer. For example, according to national OSEP data from the 1999-2000 academic year, African American students with disabilities are more than three times as likely as Whites to be given short-term suspensions. Racial disparities are nearly as great for long-term suspensions with both American Indians (2.72 times) and African Americans (2.6 times) more likely to be removed for more than ten days. Moreover, African American, Latino, and American Indian children with disabilities are each 67% more likely than Whites to be removed on grounds of dangerousness by a hearing officer.

There is currently a hole in the safety net – not a double standard. Many advocates have sought, unsuccessfully, to provide greater due process protections to all students regardless of disability status. The failure to extend this safety net to all children represents a political compromise, not a double standard.

Removing services will exacerbate the already high drop out rate for students with disabilities. Research indicates that students who are suspended or expelled are at greater risk of dropping out, regardless of disability status. Minority students with disabilities already have higher dropout rates than non-minority students. Disruptions in academic programs and relationships with caring adults are often more problematic for students with disabilities than for their non-disabled peers. Therefore school removal, which would likely increase if due process protections are diminished, will likely have severe long-term repercussions and disproportionately harm children of color with disabilities.

We need more teacher training in classroom management, not reduced safeguards for children with disabilities. We know from research that many teachers are not adequately trained in managing a classroom, and even less likely to be trained to work with students with emotional or behavioral disorders. Providing teachers with the training and support they need would go much further toward creating a safe and productive learning environment than laying down a fast track for removing students with disabilities.

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