Representatives from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services plan on holding “listening sessions” with the public in five regions across Texas, starting on December 5, to get a better grasp on the issue.
The feds are seeking feedback from parents, teachers, students, and any other stakeholders on “the timely identification, evaluation and the appropriate provision” of special education services in Texas public schools.
This comes on the heels of the Houston Chronicle's September investigation into TEA’s special education system. The daily reported that the state had placed a 8.5 percent cap on all special education enrollment — far below a national average of 13 percent. This didn't mean the state has a surprisingly small number of children with disabilities. It meant some 250,000 of these students have been denied critical in-school services like therapy, counseling and one-on-one tutoring.
The federal agency said that the Chronicle’s reporting had drawn their attention to the issue — especially since no other state has a limit to how many students can enroll in special education. The investigation “raises serious concerns” about the state’s eligibility for federal education funding, Sue Swenson, the acting assistant secretary to the federal special education department wrote in an October 3 letter to TEA. If the feds find that the state agency has limited special education access, Texas would be guilty of breaking federal law that mandates states to offer “free appropriate public education available to all eligible children with disabilities residing in the state.”
TEA officials will join federal staffers in hosting the upcoming hearings. These are the same officials that denied the existence of an 8.5 percent special ed enrollment cap, instead blaming school districts for "erroneously" interpreting the state's rules.
For those who can’t attend these five sessions, the federal agency has created a blog for Texans to share anecdotal concerns with the program.