LEANDER, Texas (KXAN) — The U.S. Department of Education says their upcoming visits to 12 school districts and 24 schools in Texas are based in part on comments received during listening sessions in December of last year. During those sessions, parents expressed frustrations with special education services in their local school districts.
Parents also expressed their concerns over special education services through a blog, sending more than 400 comments to the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. As a result, staff will begin making school visits the week of Feb. 27.
“Every time it was a struggle,” explains a Leander Independent School District parent, who wants to remain anonymous. Three of the mother’s four children needed help with reading in school.”I’m still struggling with my youngest to get help. I had brought private testing to the district ever since she was in kindergarten, and the district every time says, ‘we see no problem, we have no concerns, her grades are passing, her benchmarks are good,'” according to this parent.
This mom says she could see her daughter had difficulty. Now, about seven years later, the school district is finally testing her child to see if she qualifies for special education. It comes as top education leaders get ready to visit Leander.
The Texas Education Agency received a letter from the U.S. Department of Education raising serious concerns over providing the appropriate education for children with disabilities. As a result, 12 independent school districts will receive site visits including Leander ISD, Austin ISD and Del Valle ISD. Staff will collect data on referral and evaluation procedures for kids with disabilities, and they’ll also interview employees, according to the letter.
“There’s many parents that know there’s something going on, it’s a relief to know that we were able to speak out,” explains the Leander mother. “I hope that they really start identifying the children that need to be identified at a young age, because there is a lot of hurt that has been caused by school districts, when we trust them to do right by our children.”
Leander ISD sent a statement to KXAN saying, “We are very proud of our special education program and the students that we serve. We are happy to host the Department of Education and look forward to the visit.”
The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) says several factors were considered in deciding which schools to visit, including:
- Comments received during the Listening Sessions conducted in December 2016.
- Comments submitted to the OSERS blog between Dec. 6, 2016 and Jan. 6, 2017.
- Location of the ISD – districts were selected from 6 of the 20 regions in Texas.
- Trends in the percentage of students identified as students with disabilities.
The U.S. Department of Education started to look into claims made by the Houston Chronicle that thousands of children were kept out of special ed programs across Texas.
In the 2003-2004 school year, local districts had about 10% or more students taking Special Ed. That year, the Texas Education Agency set a target of 8.5%, and since then the numbers have dropped. Leander ISD says the number of students receiving special education in their district has always been more than 8.5%
The other school districts OSERS will visit are Houston, Everman, North East, United, Ector County, Harlandale, Laredo, Fort Bend, and Aldine. After analyzing the data collected from the visits, OSERS will issue a report of its findings to the TEA.