DeVos: Texas Violated Rights of Tens of Thousands of Students With Disabilities

DeVos: Texas Violated Rights of Tens of Thousands of Students With Disabilities

The Department of Education sent a letter to the Texas Education Agency Thursday to announce it's findings after a 15-month-long investigation.

Based on a Houston Chronicle investigation that found the Texas Education Agency had capped access to special education services, the U.S. Department of Education has concluded that Texas violated federal law in a deliberate effort to lower the number of students receiving aid.

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.

In 2004, state officials began to evaluate school district special education programs based on whether 8.5 percent or fewer of their students received special education services.

The federal report says state officials didn't expressly require school districts to limit special education enrolment, but noted that the "performance indicator" of 8.5 per cent had that effect.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday directed Morath to draft a "corrective action plan" within the next seven days. "More importantly, I share the governor's commitment to doing what's right for special education students in our public schools".

The Chronicle reported that the practice of denying and delaying special education lasted for more than a decade, starting in 2004. Across the country, 13 percent of students, on average, are identified as needing special education - in some states, 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", said Abbott.

Gov. Abbott orders the TEA to "take steps now to significantly increase the oversight provided to ensure our special education students are receiving the services they deserve".

Additionally, Abbott has asked TEA to develop potential legislative recommendations that will help ensure local school districts are in compliance with all federal and state laws regarding special education.

It also found that school administrators provided some students suspected of having disabilities with intensive academic support as a way of delaying or refusing to evaluate them for necessary federally funded special education services. From 2003 to 2017, the number of children identified as having disabilities declined by about 32,000 students, while total enrollment in Texas schools grew by more than 1 million students, according to the report. "Since becoming Commissioner, I have worked to strengthen the supports provided to our parents and school systems", Morath said in a statement. But the vacancy means Texas will have no one in a top position as it sets about overhauling special education services.

Complaints from special education parents continue to be lodged against the district with the TEA, however.

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