Texas schools failed to identify special education students: Department of Education

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A report released by the U.S. Department of Education Thursday concluded that the Texas Education Agency did not comply with federal laws to identify and provide services to students with disabilities.

The department found that some independent school districts in the state "took actions specifically designed to decrease the percentage of students identified for special education" and that the Texas Education Agency "failed to fulfill its general supervisory and monitoring responsibilities."

The findings came after Texas reported a substantial decrease in its number of children with disabilities over more than a decade.

In a letter to Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath, the acting director of the Office of Special Education Programs, Ruth 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.

The Department of Education said it received over 400 public comments on the issue and held five listening sessions in Texas in December 2016 to gather feedback from residents. The department's Office of Special Education Programs further visited 12 independent school districts, interviewed Texas Education Agency representatives and reviewed related state and district documents to reach its conclusions.

As a result, the Texas Education Agency will be required to take corrective action, including providing guidance for school staff members to ensure that students are not delayed or denied special education evaluations and potentially provide additional services to students who may not previously have been identified.

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