The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled last week that the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) unreasonably delayed implementing IDEA regulations related to racial, ethnic and gender disproportionality. The lawsuit was filed by the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) in July 2018 after DOE postponed the regulation compliance date from July 2018 to July 2020.
The regulations involve the method by which disproportionality in the identification, placement, and discipline of students with disabilities, based on race, ethnicity, and gender, would be identified in school districts. When DOE passed the regulations in December 2016, it noted some concerns that the regulations would result in racial quotas that would interfere with the appropriate identification of children with disabilities based on their needs.
DOE recognized that if states select particularly low risk ratio thresholds, districts may have an incentive to avoid identifying children from particular racial or ethnic groups in order to avoid a determination of significant disproportionality. DOE countered this concern by allowing states to set their own risk ratio thresholds, thereby helping states and districts address large racial and ethnic disparities without undermining the child find requirements. It also planned to conduct an evaluation of implementation to assess whether regulations affected how districts identify children with disabilities.
When it postponed the regulation compliance date, DOE stated that its action was based on concerns that the proposed regulations may create an incentive for districts to establish quotas. COPAA sued, alleging that the delay violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The court agreed, finding that DOE’s action was “arbitrary and capricious” and that its concern about quotas was unfounded. The court also found that DOE “failed to provide a reasoned explanation for” and “failed to consider the costs of” delaying regulation implementation.
OSBA’s Division of Legal Services will continue to monitor the regulation implementation.