Education News

Feds To Investigate Special Ed In 12 Texas Districts, Including 3 In Greater Houston (Update)

State officials maintain that no children have been denied services and that they are cooperating with the feds, which have now explained why they are visiting the schools.

Gregory Corr with the U.S. Department of Education led a series of listening sessions in December 2016 to hear from parents, teachers and advocates about their experience with special ed.
Gregory Corr with the U.S. Department of Education led a series of listening sessions in December 2016 to hear from parents, teachers and advocates about their experience with special ed.

UPDATE 4:28 P.M.: In an email, the US Department of Education explain the different reasons why these districts were chosen. They include:

  • Trends in the percentage of students identified as students with disabilities.
  • Comments received during the listening sessions held last December.
  • Comments submitted to the department’s blog on the issue.
  • Location of the district, with 6 of the 20 educational regions in Texas represented.

The visit will also include 24 individual schools.

PREVIOUSLY: Federal officials will examine special education in 12 Texas school districts later this month, including three in Greater Houston.

Those are the Aldine, Fort Bend and Houston Independent School Districts, according to the Texas Education Agency.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Education are investigating if Texas violated federal special education law when the state agency created a “benchmark” for how many kids schools should enroll in special ed. That de facto cap was 8.5 percent, lower than the national average of 13 percent.

They will examine data from districts and individual campuses to see how children were referred and evaluated for special services, according to a letter the department sent to Texas education officials in January.

It’s the second time federal authorities visit Texas in their probe. They started it after the Houston Chronicle found that the state’s cap pressured schools to deny expensive services to thousands of children with disabilities.

State officials maintain that no children have been denied services and that they are cooperating with the feds.

Fort Bend ISD said in a statement that they look forward to sharing “more about our practices with the Department of Education this month.”

“The visit from OSEP follows recent media attention and questions and concerns over the Texas Education Agency’s PBMAS Special Education indicator, and how this indicator may impact the identification process. In Fort Bend ISD, this indicator does not prevent the District from referring a student for special education if a child needs a referral,” said Amanda Bubela, spokeswoman for Fort Bend ISD.

Aldine ISD has not responded to a request for comment.

HISD’s Superintendent Richard Carranza said on Houston Matters Friday that he “welcomed” the visit from federal authorities. He said that in the fall, soon after he joined the district, he examined HISD’s internal policies and determined that no district-level policy has instituted an artificial percentage of students in special ed programs.

HISD has posted special ed rates even lower than the state’s benchmark of 8.5 percent and has one of the lowest rates of any large, urban district in the country.

At the same time, Carranza said that he is holding private listening sessions with teachers and principals to get a better sense of how special ed is being handled on campuses.

Here is the full list of districts targeted in the federal probe, according to the TEA:

  • Aldine ISD
  • Austin ISD
  • Del Valle ISD
  • Ector County ISD
  • Everman ISD
  • Fort Bend ISD
  • Harlandale ISD
  • Houston ISD
  • Laredo ISD
  • Leander ISD
  • North East ISD
  • United ISD

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Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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