AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Education Agency outlined plans to implement a conservator management team to improve Austin ISD’s special education services, according to a 31-page TEA report obtained by KXAN. It comes after a years-long TEA investigation into the school district backlog of special education evaluations.

The agency report stated it reviewed 43 investigations of the districts special education department since 2020 and found a “repetitive and pervasive pattern of violations.”

In a statement to KXAN, TEA said Austin ISD’s special education department had a lack of support for students and “significantly hampered their ability to achieve academic success and negatively impacted their school experience.”

Arati Singh, the Austin ISD Board President said the district has the ability to appeal, but said they haven’t had a discussion about whether they will.

“I’m actually excited for the opportunity to continue bringing a focus to this, continue bringing a focus across the state that we have to pay attention to special education. Our students have a right to a quality education,” Singh said.

The report states the “commissioner of education is expected to appoint a management team to oversee the operations of the district.”

In February, AISD confirmed TEA was amid an ongoing investigation of its special education department that began in July 2021.

The most recent data provided by the district showed it was behind on nearly 1,800 special education evaluations, including initial and re-evaluations the district needed to do in order to identify students with disabilities and children who need additional support or services.

The data was from a count done on Jan. 26.

On Friday, Texas Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) initially released information about TEA’s intentions. Hinojosa, a former AISD board president, said she was dismayed TEA would appoint a conservator at this time.

“The TEA has been under federal oversight by the Department of Education for its failings regarding special education since 2018. I have yet to hear from the Commissioner how or why the TEA is better equipped to address our pressing challenges,” Hinojosa said. “I have been aware of AISD’s shortcomings regarding students in special education for some time now. In fact, it has been a challenge to access these services for my own son in AISD,” Hinojosa said.

A University of Texas education professor who specializes and has done extensive research into special educations says it’s important to point out that Texas, as a state, ranks low when it comes to special education, in large part because of former actions by the TEA.

“The state has systemically failed: The funding is not adequate, they have not ensured that there is a teacher workforce or education diagnosticians. — people to do tests to address those backlogs — and there have been all kinds of problems and scandal,” David DeMatthews said.

TEA’s full statement can be read below.

TEA’s final investigative report sheds light on the systemic issues found within Austin ISD’s Special Education Department and the district’s shortcomings in identifying and providing services for students with disabilities. The lack of support for these students has significantly hampered their ability to achieve academic success and negatively impacted their school experience.

TEA believes that all students, when properly supported, can learn at high levels. The Agency has developed a rigorous plan for AISD to implement so it can return to state and federal compliance and begin appropriately serving students in need of special education services as quickly as possible.

-Texas Education Agency statement

What’s next

The Austin ISD Board of Trustees said it is carefully reviewing the 31-page report from TEA and have called a special meeting, given the 72-hour requirement for posting a public meeting, the board said in a statement.

The board will meet at 6:45 p.m., April 3 at Austin ISD’s Central Office. Additionally, the board said the community can submit recorded comments between 7:45 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday.

“AISD is 100% committed to improving SpEd for our students. We own this problem. We recognize it. This is a reason many of the trustees ran to be on this board. We are happy to collaborate with TEA,” AISD Board of Trustees President Arati Singh.