A U.S. Department of Education investigation has ruled that Texas' education agency illegally denied therapy, tutoring, counseling, and other needed aid to tens of thousands of students with disabilities.
In 2016, a Houston Chronicle investigation
uncovered that since 2004, the Texas Education Agency had capped the percentage of students allowed to participate in special education programs at 8.5 percent – a decision that even State Board of Education officials called “arbitrary.” This move left an estimated 150,000 students with disabilities unable to access resources they were entitled to. Disability advocates say the policy has likely done immeasurable damage to kids
that desperately needed, but were left out of, special education classes.
The fallout from this explosive investigation inspired Texas lawmakers to scrap the policy and introduce new bills improving special education access in the 2017 state legislature.
But that didn't appease the federal government. After the Chronicle
's investigation, the Department of Education kicked off an extensive, 15-month investigation
into Texas' special education system. The investigation included hours of meeting with school staff and parents of neglected special ed students, who described chilling scenarios where autistic students were locked in padded, sound-proof cells
, or where a student's suicide attempt in a 4th grade classroom was simply called "disruptive."
On Thursday, the DOE sent TEA a letter concluding the investigation's findings and ordered the state to come up with a plan to identify every student who was unfairly kept out of special ed programs and figure out how to (belatedly) help them.
“Every child with a disability must have appropriate access to special education and related services that meet his or her unique needs,” said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement. “Far too many students in Texas had been precluded from receiving supports and services.”
The feds did not give TEA a timeline as to when they expect a new plan. So, in his response to the letter, Governor Greg Abbott instructed TEA to prepare a "corrective action plan draft" within a week.
"The past dereliction of duty on the part of many school districts to serve our students and the failure of TEA to hold districts accountable are worthy of criticism," Abbott wrote. "At the state and local level, the practices that led to the DOE monitoring letter will end."
In a press statement, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath said he shared Abbott's urgency to fix the many systemic problems within the special education program and will deliver a corrective plan by the governor's deadline.