Senators demand stronger rules on off-book commenting

Two Democratic senators urged the Department of Education Wednesday to strengthen regulations against quietly excluding children from class over disability-related behaviors. – A practice known as informal removal.

Since the pandemic began, parents of children with disabilities say the practice has been on the rise, depriving their children of the legal right to an education. Disability advocates and legal experts say the deportations are likely to circumvent protection measures for these children, who are not supposed to be disciplined because of their disability.

In a report released Tuesday, the Associated Press and the Hechinger report documented the impact of these unofficial deportations on children and families. In interviews with 20 families in 10 statesParents said they were called repeatedly, sometimes less than an hour into the school day, to pick up their children. Some said they quit work so frequently that they lost their jobs.

The Education Department says it has seen an increase in informal removals. In May, the administration said it intended to strengthen protections for students with special needs. Officials are considering regulatory amendments to Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which protects people from being discriminated against on the basis of their disability.

The department also issued guidance to schools in July that advises against discriminatory disciplinary practices for students with disabilities. This directive defined informal removals as an action taken by school staff in response to a child’s behavior that removes a child for part or all of the school day, or even indefinitely.

In their letter Wednesday to the Department of Education, US Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both of Illinois, urged that the practice be formally defined in regulations and included as a form of prohibited discriminatory action.

“Informal removals not only restrict children’s personal development and reduce their likelihood of graduating, but are also discriminatory,” the letter read. “Federal and state laws and regulations, including Section 504, are intended to eliminate segregation of students with disabilities.”

Federal law protects students from being repeatedly taken out of the classroom for behaviors related to disability. After 10 suspensions, families of disabled children have the right to review whether the behaviors are caused by the child’s disability. If so, schools should make adjustments, such as providing additional accommodation or considering a change of venue.

But when removals are not registered, these protections are not always in place, and families may not know they can seek asylum. The department’s guidance in July made it clear that students who are unceremoniously removed have the same rights as those who are formally suspended, including through the review process.

“The ‘unofficial removal’ of students with disabilities is a pernicious and dangerous practice that the Office for Civil Rights has witnessed and is emerging with increasing frequency,” the Department of Education said Wednesday in a statement. “All students have the right to an education free of discrimination.”

Senators note that formal removals, such as a notarized suspension and expulsion, result in the loss of 11 million educational hours per year. Many schools have promised to reduce suspensions, because children cannot learn well when they are not in class.

But because unofficial removals have not been recorded, the full extent of their impact on children remains unclear.

“In some cases, unofficial removals may result in students with special needs losing months and even years of classroom instruction,” the senators wrote. “The missing school also deprives children of other important services, such as free lunch, referrals to outside services, medical care, assessment services, access to a library and playground, extracurricular activities, and a sense of community.”

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Parents, has your child been taken out of class, especially because of a disability? We want to hear from you. visit: https://hechingerreport.org/informal-removals/

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This story was produced by The Associated Press and The Hechinger Report, an independent, nonprofit news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.

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The Associated Press’s reporting on issues of race and ethnicity is supported in part by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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