Betsy DeVos guts school disability rules that once “confused” her

October 23, 2017, 7:53am

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos revealed over the weekend that she had recently rescinded 72 memos that give guidance about how schools that receive public funding should implement and follow laws to protect the rights of disabled students.

The memos dealt with two major pieces of legislation: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Rehabilitation Act. At the time of her Senate confirmation hearing in January, however, DeVos didn’t appear to know what the Disabilities Education Act was or even that it existed.

When asked by Virginia Democrat Sen. Tim Kaine whether she supported “the federal requirement” for protections for disabled students, DeVos said she thought the matter was best “left to the states” but “is certainly worth discussion.” She declined to give a yes or no answer.

Prodded a few minutes later by New Hampshire Democrat Sen. Maggie Hassan, whose son has cerebral palsy, about whether DeVos knew the Disabilities Act was a federal law, DeVos said she may have “confused it.” The exchange later went viral on Twitter.

Ultimately, DeVos was confirmed after Vice President Mike Pence cast a tie-breaking vote on her behalf in the Senate. She was the first Cabinet appointee to require the vice president’s intervention. Since she came into office, she has made rolling back federal education regulations a priority, including Obama-era Title IX rules on college campus sexual assault.

In the newsletter announcing the rollback of the disability guidance memos, which took effect earlier this month, the documents were referred to as “outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective.” The rescinded memos include titles such as “Procedural Safeguards and Due Process Procedures for Parents and Children with Disabilities” and “Implementing Community-based Educational Programs for Students with Disabilities.”

Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said in a press release that rescinding the 72 guidance documents was “another harmful regulatory reform” by DeVos.

“Much of the guidance around IDEA focused on critical clarifications of the regulations required to meet the needs of students with disabilities and provide them a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment,” Scott said.

Department of Education press secretary Liz Hill said:

“There are no policy implications to these rescissions. If you take a look at the attached list, you will see that 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. Students with disabilities and their advocates will see no impact on services provided.”