Report Of Special Ed Cap Prompts Feds To Investigate
DALLAS — A dozen Texas school districts are being targeted for review in a federal investigation into whether students with disabilities are getting the help they need, officials said late last week.
U.S. Department of Education officials will visit Austin, Houston, Everman, North East, United, Ector County, Harlandale, Laredo, Del Valle, Fort Bend, Aldine and Leander school districts starting this month, according to the Texas Education Agency.
“The purpose of these visits is to collect district-level and school-level data on referral, child find and evaluation,” the Education Department said in a Jan. 19 letter, which did not identify specific districts. The visits are scheduled to happen the week of Feb. 27. The department plans to report its findings to the Texas Education Agency.
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The 12 districts range in size, location and student demographics. The Education Department said they were selected based on:
• Trends in the percentage of students identified as students with disabilities.
• Comments received during listening sessions around the state held in December.
• Comments submitted to an Education Department blog between Dec. 6. and Jan. 6.
• Location — districts were selected from 6 of the 20 regions in Texas.
It’s unclear if any additional districts face a similar review.
Everman ISD, which enrolls about 5,600 students, is the only North Texas district on the list.
Everman school officials said they weren’t sure why their district was chosen. “As far as we know, it was random,” spokeswoman Nikita Randall said, adding that the district does a “great job” helping students with special needs.
The federal investigation was announced following a series of articles last year in the Houston Chronicle that found that Texas set a 8.5 percent target enrollment for special education programs that put pressure on districts to stay within that rate. Texas has the lowest percentage of children receiving special education help, the newspaper reported.
In Everman ISD, 7.8 percent of students were in special education in 2015-16, state data shows. Russell said that’s based on a snapshot of one day in October 2015. If you look at all students served at any time during that school year, the rate rises to 10.6 percent, she said.
Five of the 12 districts selected for review were above the state average for their share of students in special education.
Texas Education Agency officials have insisted that they developed a guideline — not a cap — to ensure that students are not inappropriately placed in special education.
Since that system was developed in 2004, the number of students in special education has dropped about 10 percent — from 516,480 in 2004-05 to 463,185 students last school year. This is as Texas’ overall enrollment grew by 20 percent.
Officials from the federal Education Department held listening tours throughout Texas in December to hear concerns from parents, students and educators.
Austin ISD officials were not told why they were picked for a visit, district spokesman Jacob Barrett said.
He added that Austin ISD doesn’t feel the need to hit any state target for special education.
“It’s on a student-by-student basis. Whatever service they need, they’re going to get it,” he said.
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