Department of Education

Following the school shootings at Marjory Stoneman and Santa Fe High Schools, President Trump established an executive Commission on School Safety. The Commission’s members were Betsy DeVos, U.S. Secretary of Education, Kirstjen Nelson, Secretary of Homeland Security, Alex Azar II, Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Matthew Whitaker, Acting Attorney General. The Commission was charged with producing policy recommendations in an effort to help prevent future tragedies. After conducting field visits, listening sessions, and meeting with state and local leaders, the Commission issued a report calling for, among other things, “more threads of love, empathy, and connection” in our country’s “moral fabric.”

The report covers a host of school safety topics, including proposed best practices for improving school climate, increasing access to school-based mental health services, coordinating with the media in reporting safety breaches, and school discipline. The report also recommends improving and increasing school safety training, including modules on active shooter preparedness. Continue Reading An Overview of the Key Findings from the Federal School Safety Commission Report

On October 20, 2017, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) within the U.S. Department of Education rescinded 72 education policy guidance documents.  Sixty-three of the documents are from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), which administers the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and provides guidance to states and local governments on how to provide free and appropriate public education to children with disabilities.  The remaining nine documents are from the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), which assists individuals with disabilities in employment, independence, and community integration matters.  The OSEP documents concern topics including special education funding, due process procedures, private school placements, and more.  By contrast, the RSA documents primarily concern employment issues and centers of independent living for adults with disabilities. Continue Reading Special Education “Clean Up” from ED: Trump Administration Rescinds 72 Special Education Guidance Documents

The Supreme Court of the United States somewhat unexpectedly agreed on Oct. 28, 2016, to take on the question of whether Title IX requires public school districts to allow transgender students to use single-sex restrooms corresponding to their gender identity rather than that of their birth sex. The issue has generated widespread controversy between the federal government (which has taken the position that it does) and several states that have taken the opposite view. The Court also will have the opportunity to address a split in the lower federal courts on this issue. In the case that the Court will review, Gloucester County School Board v. G.G., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed with the Obama administration that Title IX requires this sort of accommodation for transgender students. In contrast, a federal trial court in Texas disagreed and issued an order purporting to prohibit the Departments of Education and Justice from enforcing their interpretation of Title IX. Because of this level of controversy, the Court’s decision to address this issue is welcome, albeit surprising to some. Many commentators expected the High Court to avoid controversial issues until a ninth justice was confirmed.

The Supreme Court also agreed to take up the related question of whether the Fourth Circuit properly deferred to an informal Department of Education interpretation of Title IX. The Court, however, did not grant petitioners’ request that it review its prior decision that more formal agency interpretations of their own regulations should be granted some deference by the federal courts. This is significant because some justices have previously expressed a desire to revisit that issue. Because of the amount of guidance issued in recent years, that broader issue would have huge implications for public school districts.

The Court’s decision to address the meaning of Title IX in this context should give public school districts, as well as colleges and universities, greater clarity of the requirements of federal law in this area. Of course, many state and local laws, as well as school district policies, already provide additional guidance on this issue.

Gloucester County School Board v. G.G. will likely be one of the most closely watched cases of the Court’s 2016 term, and we will continue to update this blog as the case progresses.