Education Department slams Texas over treatment of disabled students

BY KAT SHEPHERD / JANUARY 11, 2018 /

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The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) released a report on Thursday which concluded that the Texas Education Agency is not in compliance with federal laws set in place for students who have disabilities.

The laws, meant to help identify and provide services for children with disabilities, were not adhered to, leaving the agency guilty of failing to fulfill its responsibilities.

Texas has reported a substantial decrease in the number of children with disabilities in the state, over the course of a decade. One reason may be because of misreporting, according to the DOE.

The department found that some independent school districts “took actions specifically designed to decrease the percentage of students identified for special education.” Additionally, they say the Texas Education Agency “failed to fulfill its general supervisory and monitoring responsibilities.”

Ruth Ryder, the acting director of the Office of Special Education Programs, sent a letter to Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath, regarding the disparities between enrollment of students and the identification students with disabilities.

From ABC News:

Ryder wrote that the number of children identified as having disabilities in the state declined by more than 32,000 from 2003-2004 to 2016-2017, even as the total enrollment in Texas schools rose by over 1 million students.

Ryder further noted that during the time period, Texas began to include special education representation figures in its “Performance Based Monitoring and Analysis System” and measured the figures against a standard of 8.5 percent, therefore providing a disincentive for schools to accurately report its number of students with disabilities.

In a letter Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wrote to Morath that was released by the Texas Education Agency, he said that “the past dereliction of duty on the part of many school districts to serve our students and the failure of the TEA to hold districts accountable are worthy of criticism.”

“At the state and local level, the practices that led to the [Department of Education] monitoring letter will end,” Abbott added.

In a statement, Morath said his agency has increased assistance and training for its schools and added statewide special education staff.

“I am committing today that there will be more,” the commissioner said, pointing out that the agency will work with parents and special education advocacy groups to shape its corrective action plan moving forward.

Over 400 public comments have been submitted to the DOE on the issue, the agency reports, and they have held five listening sessions in Texas to gather feedback from residents.

The Texas Education Agency will be required to take corrective action, including providing new guidance to school staff members.