One of the many goals of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is to ensure the proper and fair identification and discipline of students with disabilities between the ages of 3-21. In 2014, President Barack Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force with a call to action to close opportunity gaps faced by male students of color, including addressing disciplinary issues among students of color.

However, analysis completed in February 2016 by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) revealed that students of color are being identified more frequently as having a disability, as well as receiving harsher discipline than white students, both in terms of frequency and the nature of discipline. In response to this disparity, ED released a proposed rule on Feb. 23, 2016, titled: Equity in IDEA.

The key requirements proposed in the rule affecting schools are as follows: 

  • States must implement a standard approach to determine whether significant disproportionality based on race and ethnicity is occurring in the identification of children with disabilities.
  • States must address significant disproportionality in the incidence, duration, and type of disciplinary actions using the same statutory remedies required for the identification and placement of children with disabilities.
  • Districts with significant disproportionality may use the 15 percent IDEA required set aside of Part B funds for children ages 3 through grade 12, with and without disabilities.

In issuing these proposed regulations, ED’s goals are: (1) to ensure that students with disabilities who need special education services receive them in the least restrictive settings; and (2) to ensure that children who do not have disabilities and do not need special education services are not inappropriately identified. The proposed rulemaking has not been posted on the Federal Register, but will be subject to public notice and comment for 75 days after the date of publication in the Federal Register.