Repeal of disability rights guidelines could indirectly impact UI students

The Daily Iowan investigates whether the Department of Education’s repeal of 72 policies outlining the rights of students with disabilities will affect such students at the UI.

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On Oct. 21, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Education Department quietly rescinded 72 documents outlining policies regarding the rights of students with disabilities. These guidelines were scrapped as part of an attempt to weed out any regulations considered unnecessary or outdated by the Trump administration.

The revoked disability policies included guidance for how schools use money for special education. They also contained a document meant to make the law more understandable for parents of disabled students by converting the legal terminology into plain English.

The rescinded policy documents contained essential clarifications surrounding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which outlines the educational guidelines for students 3-21 years of age. While this act still remains enforced, the loss of these clarification documents could mean confusion for parents and educators of students with disabilities, as well as the students themselves.

Hannah Soyer, a 2017 University of Iowa graduate with disabilities who double-majored in English and journalism, said the disabilities act is much like the Americans with Disabilities Act but tailored to education.

“My own interpretation of [the act] is that it’s always been more about making sure that individuals with disabilities in schools can access the same resources and programs that students without disabilities can access,” Soyer said. (Note: Soyer is a former DI Opinions editor.)

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A statement from Mark Harris, the director of UI Student Disability Services, and Jennifer Modestou, the director of Equal Opportunity and Diversity and deputy Title IX coordinator, said the UI is assessing the effect of the revoked policies on higher-education institutions.

“Based on our early analysis, we do not anticipate a direct impact on students with disabilities enrolled at the University of Iowa,” the statement said in an email to The Daily Iowan. “Most of these actions by the U.S. Department of Education appear to be limited to K-12 institutions.”

The statement also said the university remains committed to providing reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities in accordance with federal and state law and UI policies.

Although repealed guidelines may not affect college students directly, Soyer said, it could still have implications at the college level.

“… If students in middle school or high school with disabilities are going to feel the effects of these rescinded policies, then they’re likely going to have fewer resources and opportunities than I had or someone who is in college right now had,” Soyer said.

Andrew Tubbs, a UI graduate student with disabilities and TA studying musicology, said while it is more than likely these revocations will not affect day-to-day operations of students with disabilities, when guidelines such as this disappear, people will inherently be up in arms about what that means.

“Specifically, because there was no language outlining why these guidelines were being taken away except that they were deemed ineffective, it feeds into the angst of the disabled community,” Tubbs said. “It creates this anxiety in a community that is already afraid for its rights.”

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Andrea Courtney, a 2016 UI graduate who majored in psychology, also expressed concern about how the revocations could affect the disabled community as a whole and their potential to fight back.

“I think the nature of taking away that huge of a number of documents, especially limited to students with disabilities, and then not shedding any light on what those policies did is really suspicious,” Courtney said.

With the revocation still relatively new, only time will reveal the effects of the rescinded documents at all levels of education.

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