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Texas illegally excluded thousands from special education, federal officials say

Texas illegally excluded thousands from special education, federal officials say”

The federal government says Texas broke the law by failing to educate students with disabilities.

After a monitoring period that included listening sessions with parents across the state, the department has concluded the Texas Education Agency failed to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

"It is the federal government telling families we heard you, we understand, and you are right", said Kym Rogers with Disability Rights Texas.

Also on Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter to Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath, directing him to take "immediate steps" to prepare an initial plan within the next seven days to reform special education in the state.

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.

"I think this is a great day", she told KERA.

Texas may have been the only state to set a black-and-white target, but the number of students in special education varies around the country, and so does the quality of funding and services. "I think that the children with disabilities in the state of Texas who have been ignored. and not gotten the services they need, they've been somewhat validated".

The TEA enacted a policy in 2004 to limit special education services to no more than 8.5 percent of students.

The target, enacted in 2004 and eliminated a year ago, was set at 8.5 percent of enrollment, and school districts were penalized for exceeding that benchmark, even though the state and national averages had both always been about 12 percent.

After the Chronicle's investigation, the Department of Education kicked off an extensive, 15-month investigation into Texas' special education system. Since then enrollment has surged.

Many school districts subjected their students to interventions in a general education environment rather than provide them with services when they were suspected of having a disability, according to a report.

. In several states, school voucher programs are targeted at special education students. Still, a law approved by the Legislature past year is created to prevent future limits.

The news comes as TEA remains mired in controversy over a contract that was supposed to help the state fix some of its problems in special education. "Consequently, TEA failed to make a free appropriate public education (FAPE) available to all eligible children with disabilities residing in the state".

TEA has since scrapped the indicator and lawmakers passed legislation prohibiting the use of such indicators to exclusively measure the total percentage or number of kids receiving special education or related services. The policy saved the state agency billions of dollars but denied education services to children with autism, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, epilepsy, mental illnesses, speech impediments, traumatic brain injuries, blindness and deafness, the newspaper said. School district officials said they expected they would receive less monitoring if they served 8.5 percent of students or fewer.



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