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Home | Tag Archives: special education

Tag Archives: special education

Special education students fall behind as Texas schools scramble to adapt

Losing the stability of a school day frustrates 14-year-old Logan Heller. He regularly melts down: screaming at the top of his lungs, hitting himself in the face and fleeing from anyone who tries to calm him.

Until at least early May, the Cuero Independent School District has moved to online learning, like hundreds of other schools, to stem spread of the new coronavirus throughout Texas. That’s left Logan’s mother, Robyn Garza, with no respite and minimal assistance managing her son’s self-injurious episodes. Last week, after a virtual meeting to discuss Logan’s education plan, the district’s special education director offered to send her a speech device and instructional videos to help her continue Logan’s speech therapy.

Garza told them that isn’t going to happen. She’s having a hard enough time being a mother to her five children, let alone a speech therapist, special education teacher, occupational therapist and adaptive physical education teacher for a son with severe intellectual and medical disabilities. “I made it clear to them that there’s no homeschooling happening in my house, even for my general education kiddos, because we’re all in survival mode,” Garza said.

More than half a million students in Texas, 9.6%, receive special education services through public schools. Required by federal law and mostly paid for with state and federal funds, the programs tailor individual plans to help each of them learn. Some students may just need extra time to take math or reading exams, or assistance from a full-time aide. Others may need a team of trained specialists to help them speak, walk or hold a pencil. School districts are required to evaluate students thought to need extra help, and work with parents or guardians to draw up an annual plan.

While general education across Texas has geared back up with online classes for students stuck at home, special education is adapting slowly. Educators are overwhelmed trying to alter individual education plans and unsure how to help some students over a video screen.

More than two years ago, a federal investigation concluded Texas was illegally failing to provide thousands of students with adequate special education, and mandated fast improvements. With the arrival of COVID-19, Texas special education students are likely to fall even further behind as frayed parents try to keep up with their learning while juggling the other challenges of the shutdowns.

Federal law requires districts educating their general student populations when schools are closed to ensure students with disabilities have equal access to the same opportunities. (Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is weighing pursuing congressional permission to waive parts of the federal special education law, a relief for some school districts and a nightmare for many parents.)

At a state level, the Texas Education Agency has told school districts they must, “to the greatest extent possible,” continue the special education each student was receiving before schools closed and be creative about bringing some accommodations — including extra time and small-group learning — into a virtual environment.

Many Texas school districts are scrambling to figure out how to provide services like physical therapy over video and how to prevent severe delays in evaluating students. Some districts, like Austin ISD, have slowly and inconsistently rolled out guidance to parents on how to teach their kids with disabilities. Others, like Alief ISD in the Houston area, have already started training all teachers to adjust their lessons for kids with disabilities.

“You may not be able to provide related services like you have been able to in person. But that doesn’t mean you offer nothing,” said Kristin McGuire, director of governmental relations at the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education. “You document what you can do and what you’re not able to do, and we’ll figure it out later.”

Students who lose ground during the school closures will likely be eligible for extra professional help next school year. But for now parents are stepping in as amateur special education teachers if they don’t want their kids to fall further behind.

Stephanie Moody had already been fighting to get Killeen ISD to follow the individualized education plan for her 9-year-old daughter, Samantha, and help her read on grade level. Samantha is dyslexic and qualified for instruction through a special reading program under federal law — but a TEA investigation last year concluded the district wasn’t using the program properly, delaying Samantha’s progress.

Now, Moody is worried Samantha will continue to struggle, potentially through the end of the school year. Moody’s internet has been spotty, the online programs have crashed, and she has an eighth grade son with dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder who also needs her attention. School districts “have been given a hard task, and there’s no precedent for this,” Moody said. “I also don’t think it’s fair to have these kids trying to teach them a new curriculum with programs that don’t work from home when many of them don’t have parents helping them and some of them don’t have access to technology.”

Evaluating whether a student needs to be in special education or needs a change in services can take weeks if not months; in the meantime, students aren’t learning. School district advocates are encouraging the Trump administration to waive the strict timelines for completing evaluations since districts are struggling to meet students’ basic needs and some parts of an evaluation need to happen face to face.

That could be disastrous for those students. “This disparity between this subpopulation of kids with disabilities versus any other grouping is wide. Any delays … are going to exacerbate that gap. That’s a child’s future that you’re diminishing,” said Steven Aleman, a lawyer for Disability Rights Texas. He recommends districts communicate delays to parents as soon as possible, train them on how to be teachers for their children, and find creative alternatives to in-person therapies.

In a letter to parents this week, Killeen ISD said it would ask parents who cannot attend a virtual meeting to adjust their child’s learning plan to sign a “postponement waiver.” District officials told The Texas Tribune they have also been calling parents to explain that a signed waiver for a special education evaluation will allow them to conduct a proper face-to-face assessment and observation in a school setting once school has resumed. But given the uncertainty of the pandemic’s timeline, it’s unclear how long that postponement would last.

For Garza, the parent in Cuero ISD, the uncertain timeline makes the pandemic more devastating than 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, which destroyed two bedrooms in her Coastal Bend home and wrapped the family’s trampoline around a tree. At the time, the family evacuated and stayed at a relative’s house in Austin for a few days until they could assess the damage.

But now, with cases of COVID-19 piling up everywhere in Texas, she can’t evacuate. Her son Logan, who has severe autism, is also immunocompromised, meaning any visitors to provide additional services put him at risk of disease or death.

“It’s stagnant. It’s like we’re in the eye of the hurricane every day, all day, and we don’t know when this stagnant storm is going to move and you can’t escape,” she said. “There’s nowhere to go.”

Author: ALIYYA SWABY – The Texas Tribune

Coronavirus in Texas

Get the latest updates on coronavirus in Texas here. At least 226 Texans’ deaths have been linked to COVID-19, and at least 11,671 people have been diagnosed with the disease. Hospitals are adding more beds, while medical professionals and state leaders are urging Texans to socially distance themselves from others. The state is testing thousands of people a day, but it is often taking longer than a week for Texans to get those results. Learn more about how to get tested here. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Texans are without work as unemployment claims overload the state’s systems. Schools across the state are closed at least until May 4. And Texans all over the state are confronting new challenges during the pandemic.


Special Education Caps Were the Texas Legislature’s Idea, Educators Say

After a federal report blasted Texas for failing kids with disabilities, educators and public education advocates are pointing the finger directly at state legislators who, they argue, first suggested capping special education to keep costs low.

The U.S. Department of Education last week released a monitoring report, after a 15-month investigation, finding that the Texas Education Agency effectively capped the statewide percentage of students who could receive special education services and incentivized school districts to deny services to eligible students. Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement soon after that criticized local school districts for their “dereliction of duty” in failing to serve students — which touched a nerve for educators.

“We weren’t derelict: The state of Texas was derelict, the Texas Education Agency was derelict,” said HD Chambers, superintendent of Alief ISD and president of the Texas School Alliance, an advocacy group. “We were following what they put in place.”

In a statement sent to TEA and Abbott on Sunday, the Texas School Alliance and school administrator groups dated the creation of a special education cap back to a 2004 Texas House Public Education Committee interim report, which surveyed how other states fund special education and which made recommendations to the Legislature for how to discourage identifying too many students with disabilities.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday.

“Another method that states use to control special education costs is to impose caps either on the number of students who can be identified as eligible for special education services or amount of available state dollars,” the legislative report said, as part of a breakdown of how Texas funds special education compared to other states.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires Texas to identify and provide services for all children with disabilities between ages 3 and 21 in the state. The federal government is currently paying about 16 percent of special education costs across the country.

The committee’s report recommended the Legislature “determine what aspects of our current funding mechanism for special education encourage overidentification; and then investigate alternative methods for funding special education that decrease any incentives to overidentify students as needing special education services.”

It also recommended reducing state and local administrative costs in overseeing special education in order to direct more money to students with disabilities.

That same year, TEA implemented a system to monitor and evaluate how school districts were serving kids with disabilities. The percentage of students with disabilities served plunged from 11.6 percent in 2004 to 8.6 percent in 2016. The U.S. Department of Education found last week that the agency was more likely to intervene in school districts that provided services for more students with disabilities, incentivizing administrators to cut back on services.

Chambers was a central office administrator at Cypress-Fairbanks ISD in 2004 and recalls receiving direct and indirect instruction from the state to serve fewer students. “We were under the impression that we were out of compliance if we were identifying more than 8.5 percent of our population,” he said.

TEA continued Sunday to deny allegations that it told districts to cap special education services at 8.5 percent. “The Texas Education [Agency] has been consistent with its position regarding this indicator. Our agency’s focus now is meeting the Governor’s directive to draft a corrective action plan to address the issues identified in the monitoring report,” said Gene Acuna, TEA spokesperson, in a statement Sunday.

Soon after the federal report came out last week, Abbott demanded Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath develop a remediation plan for special education within seven days. “The past dereliction of duty on the part of many school districts to serve our students, and the failure of the TEA to hold districts accountable, are worth criticism,” he said.

School groups immediately pushed back against that characterization, arguing that educators were following TEA’s demands to cut back services, and had faced state cuts that limited the quality of special education.

“Special education administrators are tasked with leading their staff to provide the best possible services with limited resources, limited training, and inconsistent guidance. It is not a dereliction of duty to follow a directive from your state regulatory agency, while at the same time trying to meet the needs of all students,” said Kristin McGuire, government relations director of the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education, in a statement last week.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • A U.S. Department of Education investigation concluded Thursday that Texas violated federal law by failing to ensure students with disabilities were properly evaluated and provided with an adequate public education. [Full story]
  • Now that the Texas Education Agency has terminated a controversial no-bid contract aimed at improving special education services, critics are questioning how a relatively unknown Georgia company got the job in the first place. [Full story]
  • Rio Grande Valley parents and educators told federal and state officials Tuesday that school districts lacked knowledge and resources to get students special education services that comply with federal law. [Full story]

Author:  ALIYYA SWABY –  The Texas Tribune

Sen. Rodríguez, Rep. Wu Pass Bill to end Arbitrary Special Education ‘Target’

The Texas Legislature has passed and sent to the Governor SB 160, authored in the Senate by Sen. José Rodríguez and sponsored in the House by Rep. Gene Wu. The bill, passed late Tuesday, eliminates the Texas Education Agency’s “target” on  special education enrollment, which effectively acted as a cap.

“This ensures that children receive the services to which they are legally entitled,” Sen. Rodríguez said. “Parents must have a place at the table when schools design appropriate accommodations, and they have a right to have their child evaluated for special education services.”

Rep. Wu, who also had filed HB 713, which was swapped out for SB 160, said: “I am proud to be a part of the team that will help ensure that not one more child will suffer this injustice again. Nearly 200,000 children have been denied their constitutional right to an equal education. We must make sure this is never repeated.”

Rachel Gandy, policy fellow with Disability Rights Texas, said: “The Texas Legislature sent a clear message that students with disabilities in Texas public schools cannot be denied access to full educational opportunity by arbitrary agency action. SB 160 keeps the Texas Education Agency from ever imposing a monitoring standard on school districts that limits the number of students who may be identified as a child in need of special education services.”

Another bill to address issues related to educating children with disabilities, SB 436, passed the Senate Tuesday. SB 436 improves the Texas Special Education Continuous Advisory Committee (SECAC) by promoting more public participation. SECAC is the federally-mandated public body that provides guidance to TEA regarding special education services.

Special education advocates complain that the committee discourages public input at meetings, a view supported by TEA’s 2015 Sunset Review. Under SB 436, the committee must develop a public participation policy, and must post on its website contact information, meeting notices, and minutes. The committee and TEA will submit a report with recommended changes to state law and agency rule.

TEA adopted a monitoring policy that set an arbitrary 8.5 percent target for children receiving special education services in Texas public schools. Numerous parents, advocates, and school districts say the policy effectively served as a cap that drastically lowered the number of students receiving services for a variety of needs, including autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and epilepsy. When the cap was implemented in 2004, Texas was comparable to the national special education enrollment average at about 12 percent. But by 2015, Texas reached TEA’s 8.5 percent target, the lowest special education enrollment in the nation.

Now, the cap subjects Texas to ongoing scrutiny from the U.S. Dept. of Education. Following a series of listening sessions attended by hundreds of people across Texas, DOE launched an investigation of 12 school districts. Parent advocates threatened to sue the state, and in March the TEA confirmed that it would eliminate the cap immediately.

Senate Bill 160 prohibits TEA from adopting a performance indicator that solely measures a school district’s total number or percentage of enrolled students that receive special education services. The bill makes clear, however, that TEA is not impaired in its requirements under federal law to monitor for disproportionality.

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