FAQs About the Removal of 72 Special Education Guidance Letters

By The Understood Team on Nov 15, 2017

Understood does not take positions on government policy. Some of our 15 founding partners may, however. That includes our managing founding partner, the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD). Our mission at Understood is to make sure parents have the information they need to support their child.

You may have heard that the U.S. Department of Education (ED) recently withdrew 72 special education guidance letters. Some parents are confused and concerned about what this means.

We asked Lindsay Jones, chief policy and advocacy officer for NCLD, to answer some common questions parents may have. Read her answers below.

Q. What is a special education guidance letter?

One mission of ED is to help schools implement . (This is our nation’s special education law.) To do that, ED sometimes issues “guidance” to schools about how to apply the law.

One example is a letter of guidance it sent to schools in 2015. In it, ED reminded schools that they may use the names of learning differences like dyslexia in . This guidance has been useful to parents. They’ve been able to bring it to IEP meetings to help them communicate with the school.

These letters don’t have the force of law. However, they do give schools important direction. And in practice, schools generally follow what ED says in guidance letters.

Q. Will the removal of these 72 guidance letters affect my child?

Probably not. These letters are part of a batch of guidance identified by ED as out-of-date or no longer relevant.

More than half of these special education letters are from the 1980s and 1990s. That was long before the special education law IDEA was reauthorized. Only a handful of the letters are from the last decade.

We’ve looked at these letters and agree that they’re outdated. You can see the full list of the letters here.

Q. Can ED change special education law like IDEA by withdrawing other guidance letters?

No. IDEA can only be changed by an act of Congress.

But ED can still have a big impact on kids with learning and thinking differences. It can change regulations under IDEA.

At NCLD, we’re pushing ED to be more open about what regulations or guidance it might be thinking of changing. These regulations are the nitty-gritty rules that schools must follow in the special education process.

The department can also withdraw other guidance letters. (For an example of what could be at stake, check out five recent guidance letters on special education.)

Q. Should I be concerned about what ED is doing?

Yes. Due to an executive order from President Trump, ED is in the process of reviewing every rule and policy to see which can be eliminated or changed. That’s what led it to withdraw the 72 letters it says are old and not relevant.

ED will soon be looking at rules and other letters that are current and important to families. To change any regulations, ED will have to notify the public and give time for comment. But ED doesn’t need to give notice to remove guidance letters.

NCLD has been advocating with ED. We want to make sure it talks with parents, educators and the disability community before making decisions that could affect students with learning and thinking differences.

We’ve told ED we expect it to keep the needs of parents and students at the forefront of this process. And we’ll be sounding the alarm if any proposed changes are harmful to kids with learning and thinking differences.

You can also do your part by staying informed. You’ve already taken a big step by reading this FAQ. Make sure you follow NCLD and Understood to learn about any further action by ED.


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    About the author

    The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.