According to the federal report, the TEA failed to identify, locate and evaluate children with disabilities and to monitor school districts to ensure they met requirements laid out in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The heart of the violation can be tied to an 8.5 percent indicator set in 2004 as a general target for the number of students a school district should have received special education services. Although TEA officials said the number was not an enforced requirement, the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs found it caused some school districts to take actions intended to decrease the percentage to 8.5 percent or lower. The indicator was eliminated in 2016.
The TEA produced the first draft of its corrective action plan Jan. 18, at which point it began compiling public comments on the plan. After the public comment period, which ends Feb. 20, the TEA will aim to provide a revised plan by March 1.
Educators, parents and members of the community can provide anonymous feedback regarding the TEA’s draft plan through an online survey, which will close at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 20. Those who have additional feedback can email [email protected].
Initial plans include: providing resources to parents of students suspected of having a disability; implementing a special education professional development system statewide; and strengthening resources allocated to special education to increase on-site support.
“I share Gov. Abbott’s urgency to quickly address the issues identified in this federal monitoring report,” TEA Commissioner Mike Morath said in a statement. “More importantly, I share the Governor’s commitment to doing what’s right for special education students in our public schools.”
The number of Texas students receiving special education services declined from 11.6 percent in 2004 to 8.6 percent in 2016, according to USDE. Although the state’s student population increased by more than 1 million from the 2003-04 school year to the 2016-17 school year, the special education population decreased by 32,000 students.
In Cy-Fair ISD, 9,098 of the 115,525 students enrolled in 2016-17 were identified as special education students—about 7.9 percent of enrollment.
In 2004, about 9.1 percent of students received services. The total number of students receiving services has increased steadily over that time.
Linda Macias, CFISD’s associate superintendent of curriculum, instruction and accountability, said the district has never taken the 8.5 percent indicator into account when determining whether a student should receive special services.
“We have always functioned in doing what’s best for our kids, so we have never looked at the caps,” she said. “If the child needs the support, we’re going to provide it for them.”
CFISD provides a range of support services for students with disabilities, including in-class support, speech and language support, adaptive behavior, occupational and physical therapy, transportation and assistive technology.
Macias said although the TEA could begin more closely monitoring evaluation processes statewide, she does not believe CFISD will have to significantly change its processes.
“It’s possible they might ask us to report things a little differently, but I don’t anticipate any major changes,” she said.