“Informal Removal” Policies Deny Students With Disabilities of Educational Opportunities

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

Across the United States, students with disabilities are being sent home from school because of behavioral issues in the classroom. In an October 2022 article for the Hechinger Report, Meredith Kolodner and Annie Ma reported that, under a policy of “informal removal,” students across the country are being sent home from school because of behavioral issues that stem from their disabilities, but this missed class time is neither counted as suspension nor documented by school administrations, which can lead to students missing school time but not making up on lessons missed during that time.

Kolodner and Ma noted that informal removal is defined by the Department of Education as “an action taken by school staff in response to a child’s behavior that excludes the child for part or all of the school day–or even indefinitely.”

Due to the nationwide shortage of teachers, students with behavioral needs are often pushed out of the classroom because inadequately trained teachers cannot handle the disruptions. Students of color with disabilities are disproportionately affected by this dynamic, even though students with disabilities are supposed to be protected under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the frequency and consequences of “informal removal.” According to Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, “The practice has taken hold in a way that is dangerous for students and needs to be addressed.”

This issue not only affects students but also their parents. The Associated Press and the Hechinger Report interviewed twenty families in ten states with children who had been subjected to informal removal. Some of these parents had lost jobs or felt the need to switch school districts as a result of the practice.

Informal removals of students with disabilities have not received news coverage that conveys the scope of the problem. Most coverage has originated from local sources, such as WTOP News, a Washington, DC radio station, which reported that special education students in Fairfax County, Virginia, were at higher risk of being suspended for more than 10 days, compared to the general population of students. Though important, locally-focused coverage cannot convey the national scope of the problem, as reported by Kolodner and Ma’s article for the Hechinger Report.

Source: Meredith Kolodner and Annie Ma, “Students With Disabilities Are Often Met With Off-The-Books Suspensions,” The Hechinger Report, October 4, 2022.

Student Researchers: Isabella Arbelaez, Taylor Callahan, Alexa DeMaria, Talia Panacy (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)