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Texas Illegally Suppressed Special Education Enrollment, Ed. Dept. Finds

The U.S. Department of Education found that Texas violated the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act through a policy—recently rescinded—that subjected school districts to additional state scrutiny if their special education enrollment percentage went above 8.5 percent. 

The office of special education programs on Thursday released a letter to state education chief Mike Morath as well as the results of a monitoring report. OSEP outlined several corrective actions the state must take, including:

  • Finding and testing students who should have been referred for evaluation but were not;
  • a plan to provide guidance to districts about their responsibilities under special education law; and,
  • a plan for monitoring. OSEP said that it would work with the state, which is still recovering from Hurricane Harvey, on a mutually-agreeable timeline.

This is the first special education monitoring report of the education department under the leadership of Betsy DeVos.

Texas' special education enrollment drew widespread attention after an investigative report in the Houston Chronicle showed that districts responded to the state's 8.5 percent benchmark by erecting roadblocks for students to receive special education. Those roadblocks included placing children in a response-to-intervention program instead of evaluating them for a disability; providing supports for students under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which does not come with the same legal requirements and protections as the IDEA; and in some cases withholding evaluations for children believed to have dyslexia if the child did not have another disabling condition. (The IDEA does not require that children with dyslexia have another disability before being eligible for services.) 

After the articles came out in 2016, the Education Department and the Texas Education Agency hosted a listening tour around the state and sought comments on a public blog

The state also responded to the reports by passing a law in 2017 preventing the state education department from ever placing a cap on special education enrollment. 

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