Texas must work to change its culture and regain trust

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Photo Credit: Melanie Westfall | Daily Texan Staff

Texas Education Agency has a long way to go to gain the trust of families of children with disabilities in Texas. In a recent meeting with special education parent stakeholders, including Texans for Special Education Reform, Texas Parent to Parent and other non-profits who serve children, Commissioner Mike Morath stated that Texas’ local education agencies, ISDs, are TEA’s customers, rather than parents and students being the customer.

This arrangement creates distance between TEA and the student, particularly because on-site visits were dropped from TEA’s program, student Individualized Education Programs were sold to a data-mining company without obtaining parental permission and special education programs were capped without serving all students who qualified. Read on for more about this last one.

Across the U.S. in 2014–2015, approximately 13 percent of children receive special education services from their public school. In Texas, however, a full third of that 13 percent has been denied these services due to an illegal — per US Department of Education — 8.5 percent cap set by TEA about 14 years ago. One in three students with disability, despite possibly arriving with a diagnosis
provided by the medical community, was denied their federal right to a diagnostician and diagnostics, merely so schools could remain in compliance with TEA’s 8.5 percent cap.

Many students have now graduated having been denied a Free and Appropriate Public Education and are unprepared for the rest of their lives.

Alarmed by the Houston Chronicle’s reporting on this situation, the U.S. Department of Education traveled to four cities in Texas and listened to parents, educators, advocates and students well into the night. Last week, the DOE announced corrective actions required of the state of Texas in response to the cap.

Yesterday, TEA published a plan that outlines six years to make site visits, rather than tripling their proposed teams and addressing corrections in two years. Also, there is far too much outsourcing in
their plan.

This ballooning battle is long. Imagine the anger and frustration felt by thousands of students and their parents as they lived day by day, school assignment by school assignment, without what they needed — and deserved. Imagine the frustration felt by teachers given no support? Imagine the funds spent on attorney fees instead of on kids. Picture teams of educators being forced to fabricate reasons as they deny one in three students who belong in special education. And when parents were stuck in a loop at their ISD, they learned they are not TEA’s customer.

Who will lead this culture shift? Can this train be turned around? Families will be watching this closely.

Linda Litzinger is a Public Policy Specialist for Texas Parent to Parent.