National Center for Youth Law

Press Releases

Court Reinstates Protections Against Racial Discrimination in Special Education – U.S. Department of Education Ordered to Implement 2016 Regulations






March 7, 2019


Denise Marshall, COPAA Executive Director,, (443)-310-8638|
Seth Galanter, National Center for Youth Law Senior Director,, (202) 288-8188

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that the U.S. Department of Education had engaged in an ‘illegal delay’ of the 2016 Equity in IDEA regulations.

Those regulations, which were supposed to go into effect on July 1, 2018, implement the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requirements relating to significant racial disproportionality. The federal court’s ruling requires those 2016 final regulations to immediately go into effect.

The decision comes as a result of a lawsuit filed against the Department by the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), who were represented by the National Center for Youth Law and Sidley Austin LLP.

“We are pleased the court understood that this Administration’s efforts to slow down needed civil rights reforms for children with disabilities were unjustified,” said Seth Galanter, senior director at the National Center for Youth Law.

“COPAA, with the support of parents whose children who have been harmed by unlawful suspensions, assignments to segregated and restrictive classrooms, and improper decisions of both under and over identification for special education, took legal steps to fight the Department,” said Denise Marshall, COPAA’s executive director. “The court has sided with the children whom the Department had deemed unimportant through its actions to delay implementation of the Equity in IDEA regulations.”

“While identification of children for special education is deeply complex, the court has made clear that the Department’s position – that the regulations would have caused [state-determined] quotas for special education – is unfounded. Today’s decision assures States will be required to help their districts who have historically discriminated against children and provide those children with early intervening services rather than ordering their suspension and expulsion from school.” 

The federal court found that the Department violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) because it “failed to provide a reasoned explanation for delaying the 2016 Regulations” and it “failed to consider the costs of delay.” These failures rendered the Delay Regulation “arbitrary and capricious.”

“Students and families will benefit from this ruling because their states and school districts will have clear rules about significant racial disproportionality in special education,” said the National Center for Youth Law’s executive director Jesse Hahnel.

Marshall concluded, “As an organization that for 21 years has held up its Mission to advocate for the civil rights of students with disabilities, we especially thank the families that stood with us in this fight to protect the rights and opportunities of children. The federal government must prioritize children and ensure they have access to achieve their full potential in our schools.” 

Read the Court’s decision in COPAA vs Elizabeth (Betsy) DeVos, Secretary of Education; Johnny Collett, Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services here.



The National Center for Youth Law is a non-profit law firm that helps marginalized children achieve their potential by transforming the public agencies that serve them. For more information, please visit

COPAA is an independent, nonprofit organization of parents, attorneys, advocates, and related professionals. COPAA members nationwide work to protect the civil rights and secure excellence in education on behalf of the 6.5 million children with disabilities in America. COPAA’s mission is to serve as a national voice for special education rights and is grounded in the belief that every child deserves the right to a quality education that prepares him or her for meaningful employment, higher education and lifelong learning, as well as full participation in his or her community.