AUSTIN (KXAN) – Court records filed in an ongoing lawsuit against the Austin Independent School District reveal the district is behind on evaluating more than 800 students who might need special education services.

The Texas Education Agency confirmed it has an ongoing investigation into the AISD special education department.

The lawsuit brought on by federal protection and advocacy agency Disability Rights Texas in 2021 alleged an estimated 800 students were waiting for delayed initial evaluations, and another 1,600 were waiting on delayed three-year evaluations.

Disability Rights wrote a letter to Education Commissioner Mike Morath Thursday stating in recent court filings the school district admitted it had 875 overdue initial evaluations in December of this year – and nearly 1,000 overdue re-evaluations for students in November.

The agency asked for the Texas Education Agency to conduct a special investigation of AISD and appoint a conservator or management team over the district’s special education department.

“Austin ISD had years to fix this problem, and TEA’s intervention, as the state educational agency responsible for enforcement of the IDEA, is clearly required so that students with disabilities receive a [free appropriate public education.],” Disability Rights Texas Senior Litigation Attorney Kym Davis Rogers said in her letter to Morath.

This is not the first time Disability Rights Texas requested an investigation into AISD’s special education evaluation backlog. The agency sent a similar letter to the agency in 2021 asking TEA to conduct a special investigation.

AISD Interim Superintendent Responds

”We are sorry,” said AISD Interim Superintendent Matias Segura. “This is a problem that has been going on for quite some time.”

Segura did not have the exact number of students that still needed to be evaluated currently and said it does change often.

”The number is dynamic. We still have many, many that have to be completed,” said Segura.

Segura said AISD must do better when it comes to special education evaluations.

”When I first came on board we didn’t have a system that could track it at a level of detail,” said Segura. “Now we do, so what you are going to see from Austin ISD is an improvement in not only track and how we perform, but also the metrics we use to keep ourselves accountable.”

Since the pandemic many teachers have left the district and some of the specialists needed for these evaluations have moved on as well.

”I will tell you the biggest challenge we have is the number of vacancies that we have within our LLSP’s and diagnosticians,” said Segura.  “We have about 70 positions of which only 23 are filled.”

It’s not a quick fix, Segura said, but it is an issue he is prioritizing.  

”This is not a six-month fix this is an 18-month fix to really get it where it needs to be,” said Segura.  ”It is a significant amount of work and it is the focus in my time here as interim superintendent.”