Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinds 72 guidance documents for rights of disabled students

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U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has rescinded 72 guidelines that outlined rights for disabled students, raising concerns within the UC Berkeley community about waning protections for students with disabilities.

Among the policies that were rescinded Oct. 2 were recommendations by the federal government that outlined how federal money would be used for equity in education for disabled students. The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services wrote in a newsletter on Friday that these 72 guidance documents were “outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective.”

According to ASUC Senator Carmel Gutherz, however, these documents are important for standardizing practices and expenditures for disabled students throughout the country in order to reduce discrepancy between states.

“Being a student with a disability, it’s kind of scary because those documents serve as guidance for our needs,” said Alena Morales, co-president of the Student Coalition for Disability Rights. “It’s helped a lot for different processes and making sure accommodations are made in a correct way for an individual.”

Morales emphasized the importance of replacing the rescinded documents because they ensure that accommodations for disabled students are provided properly. Morales added that the documents will ideally be replaced immediately with updates.

According to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, these new actions do not abolish existing laws and regulations that protect the rights of disabled students in post-secondary education systems.

“Based on our early analysis we do not anticipate an impact on our students. In many cases, these actions address K-12 public schools (not higher ed),” Gilmore said in an email. “In certain other areas the services no longer covered at the federal level are covered at the state level in California.”

Morales said the Disabled Students’ Program and TRiO are present on campus to offer support to students with disabilities.

“For me, getting my accommodations was a pretty smooth process as far as providing medical documentation and outlining what I needed,” Morales said. “But it was a learning experience as far as figuring out when to advocate for myself.”

Morales said that the Disabled Students’ Program serves as an academic support system for students and offers appointments with specialists. TRiO is a peer mentorship and guidance program that helps students succeed academically.

Gutherz will meet with Karen Nielson, director of Disabled Students’ Program, next week to clarify what the consequences of the guidelines’ rescission will be.

“In the case of Title IX, the University explicitly vocalized its commitment to Obama-era Title IX protocols despite major changes,” Gutherz said in an email. “I hope that the University will continue resisting the harmful changes being made in Washington D.C and reinforcing its vocal commitments with resources to enrich programs such as DSP.”

Contact Gioia von Staden at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @GioiaVon.