Author Philip K. Howard, who’s begun more regular blogging in connection with his forthcoming book The Rule of Nobody, wonders where the Congressional leader can be found with the courage to take on the failings of IDEA, the special-education law. [Common Good]
The Justice Department and Department of Education have sent out a Dear Colleague letter discouraging schools from pursuing strict discipline policies against student misbehavior, especially against “routine” or “minor” infractions; Education Secretary Arne Duncan cited tardiness and disrespect as examples of the latter. [Christian Science Monitor]
Assuming that the federal government has somehow acquired the legitimate constitutional authority to begin dictating the fine points of disciplinary policy to local schools in the first place — a big if — it might seem at first that much of this is innocuous. Some early coverage, for example, makes it sound as if the letter is mostly aimed at obtaining a reconsideration of zero-tolerance policies, long criticized in this space, as well as the sorts of suspensions and expulsions that are based on far-fetched dangers like finger guns or forbidden hugs.
Unfortunately, there’s much more. The letter represents the culmination of a years-long drive toward imposing tighter Washington oversight on school discipline policies that result in “disparate impact” among racial or other groups. Policies that result in the suspension of differentially more minority kids, or special-ed kids, will now be suspect — even if the rate of underlying behavior is not in fact uniform among every group. (Special-ed kids, for example, include many placed in that category because of emotional and behavioral problems that correlate with a higher likelihood of acting out in misbehavior. Boys misbehave more than girls.)
If the policy helps speed the correction of some overly harsh, mechanical school policies, both under the zero-tolerance rubric and otherwise, it may have some positive side effects. But the disparate-impact premise is a pernicious one that’s sure to create many new problems of its own. [Andrew Coulson, Cato; Scott Johnson, PowerLine]
More: in 2012 Senate testimony, Andrew Coulson pointed out that 1) compared with the alternatives, the use of out-of-school suspensions appears to improve the learning environment for other (non-disciplined) students by protecting them from disruption; 2) zero-tolerance policies were adopted in the first place in part as a defense for administrators against disparate-impact charges. In other words, the new supposed remedy (disparate-impact scrutiny) helped cause the disease to which it is being promoted as the cure. (& welcome Andrew Sullivan, Scott Greenfield, Hans Bader readers; cross-posted at Cato at Liberty)
One school attorney’s plea:
Teachers may tell you (privately) that inclusion [of special education kids in regular classroom, as mandated by federal law] often leads them to slow down and simplify classroom teaching. Yet the system is entrenched and politically correct. Many parents remain silent. Some quietly remove their kids from public schools.
Can this be anything but very bad for America?
[Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, WSJ via Common Good]
Patrick Wolf at Education Next and my Cato colleague Jason Bedrick have more on the Department of Justice’s aggressive interpretation of federal disabled-rights law to go after the successful Milwaukee school-choice program (earlier). Private schools that accept vouchers, Bedrick writes, do not become government contractors “any more than grocery stores become ‘government contractors’ when citizens use their EBT cards to purchase food there.”
First the complaint, then the money, now the public accolade: as we noted last month, student Kendra Velzen filed a complaint — and got a $40,000 settlement — after administrators at Grand Valley State University in Michigan declined to allow her emotional-support guinea pig to live with her in the dorm, even though she had a doctor’s note for it. Now the “Fair Housing Center of West Michigan has given … Velzen its annual Outstanding Effort by an Individual award. The group says Velzen was honored for promoting ‘equal housing opportunity for university students throughout the country.’” The center has a previous connection with the case, having assisted Velzen in her complaint. [AP/WILX]
Don’t you wish we’d heard more about this before the election, and not just afterward?
Breaking new ground, the U.S. Education Department is telling schools they must include students with disabilities in sports programs or provide equal alternative options. The directive, reminiscent of the Title IX expansion of athletic opportunities for women, could bring sweeping changes to school budgets and locker rooms for years to come.
Schools would be required to make “reasonable modifications” for students with disabilities or create parallel athletic programs that have comparable standing as mainstream programs.
[AP/Yahoo, New York Times, Michael Petrilli/NR ("The Obama Administration Invents a Right to Wheelchair Basketball")]
“A longtime French and Spanish high school teacher is suing the Mariemont school district, alleging it discriminated against her because she has a disability – she has a phobia of young children.” [Cincinnati Enquirer] More: Eric Owens, Daily Caller.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act because it failed to
* Continually provide ready-made hot and cold gluten- and allergen-free food options in its dining hall food lines;
* Develop individualized meal plans for students with food allergies, and allow those students to pre-order allergen free meals, that can be made available at the university’s dining halls in Cambridge and Boston;
* Provide a dedicated space in its main dining hall to store and prepare gluten-free and allergen-free foods and to avoid cross-contamination;
And much more. The college has also agreed to pay $50,000 to students affected by its earlier policies. [J. Christian Adams] Similarly: Hans von Spakovsky, FoxNews.
P.S. NPR report confirms demand from advocates for “gluten-free food [that] is prepared and served in dedicated areas.”
Take advantage of IDEA and the feds’ disapproval of test-accommodation flagging:
3. Classify your kid as having some sort of learning difference. Get your kid an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) early on so that they get unlimited time taking the SAT. The classification is not reported to colleges, so it’s just seen simply as a really high score.
You might think this is extreme, but in New York City parents get their kid classified as special needs in order to get a leg up getting into elite preschools. So doing this to get into an elite college seems fine. And look, it’s hard to get an IEP when your kid is two years from taking the SAT. Everyone wants an IEP then. It’s easy when you have a first-grader. Most first graders look like they need an IEP when they are in school because school is so uncomfortable for young kids.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination by recipients of federal education spending and other programs, does not currently allow private litigants to sue demanding punitive (as distinct from compensatory) damages, nor do the courts entertain private suits complaining of “disparate impact” under it. Some trial lawyers and advocates of expansive discrimination law have long wanted to change that, and now Hans Bader of the Competitive Enterprise Institute is warning that there are efforts afoot to slip an expansion into law by attaching it to some “must-pass” piece of legislation. An effort by Democratic senators to attach it to the Defense Authorization Act appears to have fallen short, but it may be back as a rider on other bills, with serious courtroom consequences, Bader warns, for schools and colleges and also for doctors and hospitals.
The U.S. Department of Justice is taking the position that it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act for the Law School Admission Council to inform law schools that test-takers got extra time or other accommodations after lodging demands under the ADA. The ABA is siding with disabled-rights activists in calling for an end to test score flagging. [ABA Journal]
The U.S. Department of Justice has sued the Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association, saying that it is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act because it refuses to administer a medication for the relief of grand mal seizures. Two students wish to participate in the program who have a potential need of the medication on an emergency basis. “The medication, Diastat AcuDial, comes in a pre-filled syringe with a plastic tip and must be administered through a person’s rectum.” [Daily Herald]