Schools Accused Of Forcing Out Special Education Students
Advocates are accusing schools across one of the nation’s largest states of using truancy laws to funnel kids with disabilities off their rolls.
Thirteen school districts in Texas — including those in Austin, Houston, Fort Worth and San Antonio — are allegedly using truancy laws to absolve themselves of responsibilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, according to a complaint filed this week by the advocacy groups Disability Rights Texas, the National Center for Youth Law and Texas Appleseed.
“Rather than providing these students with the special education and related services to which they are entitled — services which would allow them to stay in school and access their education — their school districts have referred them to court for the Class C misdemeanor of Failure to Attend School,” according to the complaint filed with the Texas Education Agency. “Once in court, the school districts actively force students out of their regular education programs, in violation of the students’ rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.”
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The nonprofits say that the state education agency has failed in its responsibility to ensure that schools follow special education laws and, without appropriate services, students are more likely to miss school and end up facing truancy charges. They are asking for an independent investigation and administrative remedies at the state level.
“It is especially egregious that our most vulnerable youth are being pushed out of a system that is supposed to provide opportunity and support only to be forced to defend themselves in adult court without the assistance of an attorney,” said Deborah Fowler, executive director of Texas Appleseed.
In Texas, students can be referred to court for truancy for having as few as three “days or parts of days” of unexcused absences within a four-week period. Once there, the threat of criminal charges and fines often compels families to accept deals requiring that they withdraw from school, advocates allege.
The groups cite state data showing that between 2010 and 2013 over 1,200 students with disabilities were ordered by Texas courts to drop out of school and take the GED exam only to fail. In other cases, students with disabilities have been pushed into alternative schools or mandatory homeschooling after being charged with truancy, the complaint says.
DeEtta Culbertson of the Texas Education Agency said the agency is not able to comment because they have not yet received a formal, signed copy of the complaint.
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