Published: Sat, January 13, 2018
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Texas Schools Illegally Excluded Students With Disabilities: Federal Officials

Texas Schools Illegally Excluded Students With Disabilities: Federal Officials

"Due to this pattern, OSEP finds that (the Texas Education Agency) did not ensure that all (school districts) in the state properly identified, located and evaluated all children with disabilities residing in the state who were in need of special education and related services", the federal report indicates.

Texas education officials violated federal law when they excluded more than 100,000 students with disabilities from programs created to help them, the federal government announced.

Texas put the 8.5 percent benchmark into place in 2004 and got rid of it just a year ago, after a 2016 investigation in the Houston Chronicle brought it to light.

The department found some school district "took actions specifically created to decrease the identification of children for special education" and the Texas Education Agency "failed to fulfill its general supervisory and monitoring responsibilities".

Department of Education regulators say Texas illegally capped its special education services at 8.5 per cent of students statewide in 2004, allowing school districts to deny services to thousands of kids with disabilities until 2016.

The result was that students who should have been getting help with their learning disabilities in many cases were instead left to struggle in regular classrooms with few resources, as parents fought with school officials for their children's federally guaranteed rights.

Advocates for children with disabilities have praised the federal report.

"Far too many students in Texas had been precluded from receiving supports and services under [the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act]", U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a statement.

Parents told the I-Team some schools refused to even evaluate their children to see if they would qualify for services the federal government requires districts to provide students with disabilities. "While there is still more work to be done, leaders in the state have assured me they are committed to ensuring all students with disabilities can achieve their full potential".

Shortly after the federal Department of Education released its report, Governor Greg Abbott sent a letter to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.

"I am committing today that there will be more".

"The past dereliction of duty on the part of many school districts to serve our students, and the failure of TEA to hold districts accountable, are worthy of criticism", Abbott said in a statement. For example, we have added significant resources focused on increasing technical assistance and training for our school systems, including 39 statewide special education support staff in the past year.

Abbott also requested the agency send him legislative recommendations for ensuring school districts are complying with all federal and state special education laws. "The project was planned by a mission-driven team, dedicated to helping improve outcomes for our special education students".

The state's new special education director had filed a federal complaint alleging misconduct about the contract and was sacked from the agency the next day, according to the Texas Tribune.

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