Education News

Parents, Teachers Ask Federal Officials To End Texas’ Benchmark On Special Ed

More than a hundred parents and teachers showed up at a listening session in Northwest Houston Monday night to tell federal authorities just how hard it’s been to get children special ed services.

Camilyn Marceaux and her son Chris Crowley, 10, told federal authorities they've struggled to get him special ed services in school.
Camilyn Marceaux and her son Chris Crowley, 10, told federal authorities they’ve struggled to get him special ed services in school.

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This week federal authorities are taking a closer look at special education in Texas to see if children with disabilities are being denied an appropriate education.

More than a hundred parents and teachers showed up in Northwest Houston to tell officials from Washington, D.C. just how hard it's been to get children special ed services.

“So if we actually do get a student who is referred for special education, we kind of joke among ourselves as teachers, ‘Oh wow! You actually got someone referred for ‘sped' (special ed) – That's kind of a miracle!” said Sarah Hensley, who teaches a bilingual second grade classroom in Aldine.

Parents recounted how they fought school districts, and their attorneys, for adequate services for their children.

In the Klein Independent School District, Tracy Atkins said that a private clinic diagnosed her daughter with several learning issues.

But school officials refused to give any special support, instead calling her daughter “cute” and “well-behaved.”

“And she deserves, as much as any other child, the right to be educated. She is seven and she can't identify the word ‘the,'” Atkins said.

Gregg Corr is a director in the U.S. Department of Education's office of special education programs. The department is touring Texas this week to hear from parents and teachers about their experience in special ed.
Gregg Corr is a director in the U.S. Department of Education’s office of special education programs. The department is touring Texas this week to hear from parents and teachers about their experience in special ed.

The U.S. Department of Education scheduled the listening tour after a recent Houston Chronicle investigation revealed Texas set an arbitrary benchmark in 2014 for special ed enrollment. It pressured school districts to only enroll 8.5 percent of all kids in special ed. The national average is 13 percent. The Texas Education Agency has denied putting a cap on special ed, but it has also said it will clarify its monitoring system for districts.

After listening for three hours to parents — including some who drove more than 100 miles to voice their frustration — Gregory Corr with the federal agency said that they will keep examining the issue.

“A lot of emotion, parents have gone through tremendous struggles here,” Corr said. “There certainly seem to be some issues that we need to look into further.”

Corr said that the session with parents and teachers contrasted with a meeting they had earlier Monday with school district administrators, who reported no children being denied services.

Some of the parents and advocates demanded that federal authorities make sure Texas ends its benchmark for special education.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, said that she wants a full investigation.

“I support a notice of intent for the Department of Education and maybe the Department of Justice for the state to fix this problem immediately,” Jackson Lee said. “And if not, for the state to be sued under the basis of IDEA or the American with Disabilities Act,” she added, citing the federal law that ensures children with disabilities receive an education.

The listening tour will continue in Texas, with stops in El Paso, the Valley and Austin.

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