Department of Education report: Texas did not provide sufficient special education
The U.S. Department of Education announced on Thursday that Texas violated federal laws by denying special education services to thousands of students.
This happened for more than a decade, according to their report. Investigators found the Texas Education Agency - also known as the TEA - did not fully identify and evaluate students with disabilities.
The investigation was prompted by a series of stories by the Houston Chronicle in 2016, which discovered the state of Texas quietly created an 8.5 percent cap on number of students in a school could be eligible to enroll in special education. This cap was instituted in 2004, according to those stories.
The TEA denied this cap existed, even after the State legislature passed a law that addressed this.
The Department of Education's report has parents like Lisa Flores upset.
"Enraged and sad in equal parts, that it was hidden," Flores said.
Flores has a son who utilizes special education.
She says he was never denied special education instruction, but she knows other parents and students weren't so lucky in the decade-plus of violations.
"It's not just a number on paper. It's actual families and actual kids whose lives were forever impacted - their chances of going to college, their chances of making friends," Flores said.
Governor Abbott sent a letter to the TEA on Thursday saying they must take steps now to fix this.
The TEA posted a statement on their website.
I share Gov. Abbott’s urgency to quickly address the issues identified in this federal monitoring report. More importantly, I share the Governor’s commitment to doing what’s right for special education students in our public schools.
Since becoming Commissioner, I have worked to strengthen the supports provided to our parents and school systems in properly identifying students in need of services, and then ensuring those services are delivered. For example, we have added significant resources focused on increasing technical assistance and training for our school systems, including 39 statewide special education support staff in the last year. I am committing today that there will be more.
The corrective action plan called for by the Governor will outline the specific steps TEA will take to address all the identified issues. Parent and special education advocacy group representatives will play an ongoing integral role in helping shape this plan, as well as all efforts of the agency in the years ahead. My top priority has and continues to be to improve outcomes for all students in Texas.
Flores says navigating through the process of getting her son a quality education was a challenge.
Initially, she had him attend a charter public school, but did not feel he was getting the proper education.
She home-schooled her son for three years, before deciding to enroll him into public school this year.
As difficult as this process was for her and her son, Flores knows it was even more difficult for other parents whose children were denied special education services.
She says the ones who paid the price were children, and the most vulnerable children at that.
"It's just a complete moral failure," Flores said. "It's almost David and Goliath."