Students With Disabilities Illegally Denied Special Education

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The Texas Education Agency led schools to illegally delay or deny special education services to students statewide, according to a report released Thursday by the U.S. Education Department.

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.

OSEP launched an investigation and visited the Texas Education Agency and 12 independent school districts across the state last February, prompted by a series of reports in the Houston Chronicle which found that the state agency intentionally delayed or denied special education services to disabled students to stay below an 8.5 percent enrollment target. "But while the problems identified in the report started long before your arrival at TEA, our parents and students demand significant actions be taken now to improve special education in Texas".

But now, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has given his education agency a week to produce a plan to completely "reform special education" in the nation's second-largest state. "More importantly, I share the governor's commitment to doing what's right for special education students in our public schools".

TEA has denied all allegations that it capped services for students. "Far too many students in Texas had been precluded from receiving supports and services under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)".

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Many school districts subjected their students to interventions, including those with dyslexia, in a general education environment rather than provide them with services when they were suspected of having a disability, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Education. Disability advocates say the policy has likely done immeasurable damage to kids that desperately needed, but were left out of, special education classes.

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.

Meanwhile, Texas fired state special education director Laurie Kash in November, following her filing a federal complaint over the education agency's having awarding a now-cancelled, no-bid contract to a company tasked with analyzing student data before she was hired.

The monitoring report received by TEA today was issued following a listening tour by federal officials past year.

The state's new special education director had filed a federal complaint alleging misconduct about the contract and was sacked from the agency the next day, according to the Texas Tribune. "Since becoming Commissioner, I have worked to strengthen the supports provided to our parents and school systems", Morath said in a statement. Yet private schools under the law do not have to provide a free, appropriate public education, so if special education students are getting vouchers they may be giving up some of their federal rights.