Photo: Getty

On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ordered her department to rescind 72 documents that outline and clarify the rights of students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

The guidelines were reportedly done away with as part of the Education Department’s response to an executive order President Donald Trump signed in February “to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens.” According to Lindsay E. Jones, chief policy and advocacy officer for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, who spoke to the Washington Post, the Education Department recently underwent a review of special education guidelines, during which many education advocacy and disability rights groups urged that the policy guidance stay in pace. 

On Friday, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services announced the revocation of the guidelines in its newsletter, saying that “a total of 72 guidance documents…have been rescinded due to being outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective—63 from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and 9 from the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA).” The letter noted that the guidelines had already been rescinded on October 2.

The Education Department, of course, has yet to comment on this vital muddling of disabled students’ rights. Jones told the Washington Post, “All of these [guidelines] are meant to be very useful … in helping schools and parents understand and fill in with concrete examples the way the law is meant to work when it’s being implemented in various situations.”

And yet it’s easy enough to interpret the department’s silence, because Betsy DeVos, and this entire administration, love to rescind protections of hard-won civil liberties. In February, DeVos rubber stamped Trump’s roll-back of rules directing schools to let transgender students use the bathrooms of their choice. In September, DeVos rescinded guidelines for universities and colleges on handling campus sexual assault. The point of all these actions is that now schools have less guidance, clarity, and incentive to address power imbalances in education on a case-by-case basis.