On Behalf of U.S. DOJ, DPI Requests Disability Data From Private Schools

Published on: June 12, 2014

According to WILL President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg, “The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is allowing itself to be commandeered by the United States Justice Department contrary to state and federal law.”  On June 10, 2014, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction sent a new and unprecedented notice to all administrators in the Wisconsin school choice program, requesting detailed information from private schools regarding their students with disabilities.  DPI says that this is required by the U.S. Department of Justice.  Today, WILL has released a public comment that raises several serious legal issues surrounding DPI’s request that schools must be aware of in considering their response to DPI.

Says CJ Szafir, WILL’s Education Policy Director:  “It is indisputable that private schools in the choice program cannot be compelled to turn over data about their students with disabilities.  If schools choose to do so, they should be aware of the serious legal issues raised by DPI’s request.”

Nothing in the Wisconsin statutes empowers DPI to collect data on children with disabilities or requires private schools in the choice program to provide it.  Therefore, schools do not have to comply with DPI’s request.  In fact, it is doubtful that DPI can even ask for the data.  Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Justice cannot require private schools to provide this information – or even DPI to request it.  What DOJ is doing amounts to trying to “commandeer” a state agency to collect data that it cannot obtain for itself.

And, if schools do comply with DPI’s request, they may be putting themselves in serious liability of violating federal and state law.  Student data can be confidential, falling under the protection of numerous federal and state privacy laws.  Moreover, DPI’s questions in the Disability Data Report are so vague that by answering them, schools could be at risk of inadvertently providing incorrect data.

DPI’s request for data is as follows:

New Report – Disability Data Report: As required by the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ), starting with the 2013-14 school year the department is collecting information on how choice students with disabilities are served in voucher schools. Whereas the Department of Public Instruction cannot require you to submit this data, we request private schools that participated in the choice program during the 2013-14 school year, complete the “Disability Data” report in OAS by June 30, 2014.

WILL’s public comment can be found by clicking here.