This is an old response, written in October 2017 as part of an online discussion from when U.S. Secretary of Education’s Betsy DeVos’s rescinded 72 guidance documents on special education. I’m posting it here to publicly archive my articulation of concerns, which seemed to be useful to others. (My positionality is that of a now-adult professional who grew up with special ed services in the U.S. public school system.)
In the midst of the discussion, someone asked why are all these disability activists upset about the repeal of these documents when they’re not touching the laws themselves?”
Here’s my concern vis-a-vis these specific documents. Using only the language of the article, they contain “information on how schools can spend federal funds allocated for special education, as well as guidance for parents on advocating for their children.”
Thing is, schools and parents are often pretty clueless about how to serve disabled kids. They don’t know what’s required, what’s available, what’s best, etc. and oftentimes these kinds of documents are resources for that - not only for providing information, but for arguing for the rights of those kids in the classroom.
It is specifically powerful to have that kind of documentation be in official government documents. Sure, private groups could create best practice documents with the same (or same type of) information about serving disabled kids. However, private groups can’t say “this is legally mandated” without pointing to actual government/legal documents. And sometimes schools/employers/landlords/etc. will dismiss documents that aren’t “official,” but will pay more attention to something from the relevant government agency, even if it is simply “guidance.”
Taking away tools that people can use to fight and advocate for their rights is a blow towards implementation of the law, even if it doesn’t (yet) directly touch the law itself. It’s like saying that slashing the marketing for a product won’t hurt its sales. Implementation requires awareness; awareness requires information and the tools and skills to advocate and act. These tools are also things we need to protect.