AUSTIN (KXAN) – New data presented on Thursday during the Austin Independent School District school board meeting revealed the district was behind on 488 evaluations for students who are suspected of needing special education services as of Aug. 25.

According to district data, the number is down from July, when more than 1,300 evaluations were still not completed despite missing federal and state-mandated deadlines.

Screenshot from Sept. 7 Austin ISD presentation to the school board on special education evaluations. (Austin ISD)

“I am sorry to the families who did not get served. We are doing better now,” Board President Arati Singh said.

The revelation came out during one of the first school board meetings where trustees will consider a proposal from the Texas Education Agency addressing years of special education violations.

The TEA announced in March its intention to appoint a conservator to take over special education services with the district. The Austin ISD school board requested the agency appoint a monitor instead – which would be able to observe the district and report back to the agency but not make decisions for the district.

The TEA proposal, which the district has until the end of September to vote on, grants the district’s request for a monitor – but would require the district to meet dozens of deadlines to prevent state intervention of the special education department.

The agency would require the district to address all open corrective action plans and to address systemic issues within the department, including conducting a third-party audit and release a public report on the “State of Special Education,”

The school board would also be required to spend at least half of their meeting time on student outcomes, including progress monitoring of special education and test scores.

The district would also waive its right to appeal any recommended state intervention if it signed this agreement. District officials said it’s “likely” the TEA would still appoint a conservator if trustees voted the proposal down.   

School board trustees expressed concerns over the inability to appeal the decision under the TEA agreement and some of the other requirements in the proposal, including requirements to revise board policy and participate in a program called Lone Star Governance.

Some parents who attended the school board meeting also voiced concerns over the agreement and asked the district not to move forward with the plan.  

“I fear this is the first step to an official takeover of our district,” Austin ISD parent Sharon Vein said.

The district’s Assistant Superintendent of Special Education Programs, Dr. Dru Robinett, told the board the district’s current plan to address systemic issues and the proposal from TEA were similar. She also said the district is already making progress in addressing violations.

Since January, Robinett said the district has added 50 special education staff members and $30.2 million to its special education budget. The district also provided data showing it’s evaluating hundreds more students a month compared to the previous year.

“We have a substantial decrease in our number of pending evaluations of students,” Robinett said. “The timelines are ambitious but doable.”