Federal Budget Cuts to Education Raise Concerns (April 1, 2019)

This year’s proposed federal budget includes cuts to education totaling $8.5 billion (or about 12%), including the elimination of 29 programs. The Trump Administration has also proposed to eliminate the $2.1 billion Title II, Part A (Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants), which helps to support teacher salaries and professional development.

In the area of special education, the budget proposed last week by US Secretary Education Betsy DeVos created a highly publicized firestorm when she proposed cutting the $18 million federal dollar contribution for the Special Olympics. The notion that such a cut would actually occur was quickly dispatched after public opinion proved to be very much against it. However, there is much more to consider when considering cuts to other special education programs.

To begin with, the USDE is proposing a $7 million (nearly 10%) cut to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf and a $5 million (nearly 17%) cut in funds for the American Printing House for the Blind. Gallaudet University, a federally chartered private university for the education of the deaf and hard of hearing, would incur a $13 million (nearly 10%) cut in federal funding. $12 million for research regarding gifted ed. students would also be eliminated. There are no proposed cuts to special education grants to states.

According to the budget proposal, the above cuts are needed to “support the President’s goal of increasing support for national security and public safety without adding to the Federal budget deficit.” It is, however, highly unlikely that many or even all of the cuts to special education mentioned above would pass since they are proving to be highly unpopular.

Federal Court Rules for Schuylkill County Student in First Amendment Case (March 31, 2019)

Last week, a federal court ruled in favor of a Mahanoy Area High School student in a free speech rights case. In 2017, the former sophomore was removed from the cheerleading squad after making disparaging remarks about the school on Snapchat during a weekend and while she was not at or participating in a school activity. The ruling reinstated the student to the squad while averring that public schools have no authority to discipline students for off-campus speech.

USDE Delay Tactic Vacated by Federal Judge, Significant Disproportionality Rule Now Goes Into Effect (March 9, 2019)

On Thursday, March 8, 2019, a federal judge in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos illegally delayed an Individuals With Disabilities Education Act rule under the Obama administration that required states to identify school districts with “significant disproportionality” in the number of minority students channeled into special education services, segregated in restrictive classroom settings, or disciplined. The ruling called the USDE’s delay of the special education rule “arbitrary and capricious.” The ruling also vacates the decision by Secretary DeVos to incur a two-year delay on the regulation, which instead must immediately go into effect as states are now required to identify school districts with “significant disproportionality.”

USDE Releases FAQs on School Safety and Student Privacy (February 24, 2019)

The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) has released a document titled School Resource Officers, School Law Enforcement Units and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which contains frequently asked questions (FAQs) concerning the responsibilities of school districts with regard to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) pursuant to school safety. The FAQs in this document (available on the PAPSA website in “Downloads”) address the responsibilities of school districts under FERPA pertaining to disclosures of student information to law enforcement, including school resource officers (SROs), and others and highlights how FERPA protects student privacy while ensuring the health and safety of students and others in the school community. The document is in response to a report from the Federal Commission on School Safety (FCSS) that stated a “substantial misunderstanding remains at the local level among officials and educators concerning (FERPA), and in particular its application to school-based threats.”

Deadline Passes for Comment on New USDE Rules on Sexual Assault (February 22, 2019)

Recently, the deadline passed for the submittal of comments on draft rules promulgated by the Trump administration that will govern how accusations of sexual assault at the nation’s schools are handled. One of the new rules will allow for cross-examination of accusers in real time, which has alarmed victims’ advocates. Other changes also revise standards of notice, proof, and jurisdiction.

In 2011, the Obama administration issued a letter that required school administrators to effectively handle cases, but did not provide specific procedures. Also, school districts that appeared to be ineffective in handling such cases were at risk of losing Title IX federal funds. Those critical of that letter have espoused that school district officials often favor the accuser/victim, putting mostly males at a perceived unfair advantage. Conversely, others have pointed to a multitude of cases whereby accusers have experienced much difficulty with regard to being treated fairly, and that false complaints are in the great minority.

Now, the rules promulgated by USDE Secretary Betsy Devos are viewed as granting more protections to students alleged to have committed misconduct and easing up on the oversight of school districts. They would also allow cross-examination of the accuser and maintain that harassment must be “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” that it denies a person equal access to education. A major point of contention centers on what qualifies as “pervasive”, particularly in an instance where there has been a single egregious act. Further concerns include that a school district’s purview is limited to acts committed on campus or at officially sanctioned school activities, and a victim must notify the applicable “corrective authority.” Thus, many believe that the new rules will deter reporting.

Once the USDE has considered comments received, a determination will be made as to what shape the final rules will take.