The US Department of Education (DoE) has told the Texas Education Agency (TEA) it must develop a plan and timeline to ensure all of the State’s children with disabilities are appropriately identified, evaluated and served.
The instruction follows a monitoring exercise by the DoE’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) that identified long-term failures. The investigation was triggered by reports of a significant decline in the number of children in the State identified as having disabilities and being eligible for special education and related services.
The OSEP report lists three specific areas in which it found the TEA had failed to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). They were that:
- The TEA failed to ensure that all children with disabilities residing in the State who are in need of special education and related services were identified, located and evaluated, regardless of the severity of their disability;
- The TEA failed to ensure that free appropriate public education (FAPE) was made available to all children with disabilities residing in the State in Texas’s mandated age ranges., which is three through to 21;
- The TEA failed to fulfil its general supervisory and monitoring responsibilities as required by IDEA to ensure that Independent School Districts throughout the State properly implemented the IDEA’s child find and FAPE requirements. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires a school district to provide a ‘free appropriate public education’ to each qualified person with a disability who is in the school district’s jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the person’s disability.
Every child with a disability must have appropriate access to special education and related services that meet his or her unique needs.
Far too many students in Texas had been precluded from receiving supports and services under IDEA. I’ve worked directly with Commissioner Morath [Texas Commissioner of Education] on resolving these issues, and I appreciate the Texas Education Agency’s efforts to ensure all children with disabilities are appropriately identified, evaluated and served under IDEA. While there is still more work to be done, leaders in the state have assured me they are committed to ensuring all students with disabilities can achieve their full potential.
Says US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
In 2004, Texas implemented a special education representation indicator of 8.5 per cent to measure the percentage of students enrolled in special education and related services. OSEP found that indicator resulted in a declining identification rate of children with disabilities in Texas. Data from TEA demonstrates the number of children identified as children with disabilities under IDEA declined from the 2003-2004 to 2016-2017 school years by 32,000 students, while total enrolment in Texas schools grew by more than one million students.
As early as November of 2016, TEA began taking steps to address initial concerns expressed by OSEP, including issuing a letter to every independent school district in the State reiterating their child find responsibilities under the IDEA.
The OSEP report says the TEA supported OSEP in obtaining the necessary information throughout the Department’s monitoring, including coordinating a series of listening sessions throughout the State which were attended by both OSEP and TEA staff.
Additionally, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, with the Texas legislature, implemented a new law that prohibits the use of school performance indicators that solely measure total number or percentage of enrolled children receiving special education and related services under the IDEA.