Feds: Students With Disabilities Illegally Denied Special Education
Federal education officials say that for more than a decade Texas delayed and ultimately denied special education services to thousands of students with disabilities.
In a sweeping report issued Thursday, the U.S. Department of Education said the Lone Star State failed to ensure that the free appropriate public education guaranteed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was provided to all of the state’s children with disabilities and Texas also did not make certain that all kids in need of special education were identified and evaluated.
Now, federal officials are ordering the state to identify children who were not appropriately served and do right by them, among other steps.
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“Every child with a disability must have appropriate access to special education and related services that meet his or her unique needs,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. “Far too many students in Texas had been precluded from receiving supports and services under IDEA.”
The findings are the result of a year-long federal investigation. The Education Department stepped in after a 2016 Houston Chronicle report found that Texas had quietly implemented a target in 2004 aiming for just 8.5 percent of students to be in special education.
Subsequently, special education enrollment in the state dropped by 32,000 between the 2003-2004 and 2016-2017 school years even though the state added more than a million additional schoolchildren over the same period.
Officials with the Education Department’s Office of Special Education Programs conducted listening sessions in Texas, visited a dozen school districts in the state and solicited public comments as part of their monitoring effort.
The findings issued this week indicate that children who were struggling were routinely provided Response to Intervention and other techniques for years before being referred for special education evaluations even though federal law requires that those suspected of having a disability are to be immediately evaluated.
“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. “Consequently, TEA failed to make a free appropriate public education (FAPE) available to all eligible children with disabilities residing in the state.”
Federal officials noted that Texas has already taken some steps to address the problems, including doing away with the 8.5 percent benchmark, but said more work remains to ensure the state is in full compliance with IDEA.
In response, Texas officials committed to working with parents and special education advocates to develop and implement a corrective action plan.
“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,” wrote Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in a letter sent Thursday to the state’s education commissioner. “At the state and local level, the practices that led to the DOE monitoring letter will end.”