Special ed is part of the HISD takeover, too

Just a reminder that fixing special education was also part of the TEA takeover mandate for HISD. How’s that going so far? Well, the parents of the special ed kids say they’re not seeing much of anything as yet.

For years, HISD families have struggled with persistent dysfunction in the district’s special education department. Multiple outside reviews over the past 15 years, including a state investigation in 2020, have documented extensive issues with HISD’s process of identifying, testing and serving students with disabilities.

Now, parents like Ramón are anxiously following along as new HISD Superintendent Mike Miles outlines his plans for the state’s largest school district, awaiting word on how his strategy might improve a special education system they see as broken.

In his first two months on the job, Miles has unveiled broad strokes of a strategy for better serving students with disabilities: raising some special education teachers’ pay, adding more aides to classrooms, tying principal evaluations to special education-related results and putting central office administrators closer to classrooms.

“Special education teachers have too much to do,” Miles said. “We’re not waving a wand and fixing special education, but we’re going to move in the right direction.”

But with the first day of school less than a month away, some parents and advocates say they’re still in the dark on details — and worried about what little they have heard.

Angelica Medrano, who spent 12 years as a special education teacher and administrator in HISD and runs a business advocating for families, said none of her roughly 50 clients in the district have a clear picture of how Miles’ plans will affect their children. The same goes for teachers she knows in HISD.

“Everything that I’ve heard from other parents, and even teachers, (is) there really has been no communication about what the plan is with special education,” Medrano said.

Meanwhile, the district’s plan to send students who disrupt class or disrespect adults to learn virtually on laptops in a separate space, commonly known as “Zoom rooms,” has alarmed families. They argue the punitive approach to discipline is ableist and out-of-touch.

“There’s just no understanding of disability,” Ramón said.


For now, Miles’ special education plans largely focus on teacher pay and staffing.

Special education teachers at 28 lower- and middle-income schools will see raises bringing their salaries to $85,000 to $92,000. Most of those educators made about $60,000 to $70,000 last year.

In addition, Miles plans to add assistants to special education classrooms at those 28 campuses and another 57 schools that have opted into the superintendent’s plans for changes. The aides will help handle paperwork and oversee compliance with students’ learning plans, Miles has said.

Miles added that he’s also shuffling around central office positions and placing special education directors at regional offices, closer to the campuses they oversee.

“We are pushing the special ed services oversight … closer to the schools,” Miles said. “Supports will be able to focus on the schools in their feeder patterns.”

For some parents, however, communication with the community has been poor.

Miles typically devotes one PowerPoint slide to special education during his 10-stop “family events” tour of the district, which wraps up this week.

During a community meeting Saturday at West Briar Middle School, Prather asked Miles a question about special education programs at magnet schools. In what some parents say has become a familiar pattern, the inquiry “wasn’t answered, period,” Prather said.

Prather said she’s concerned none of the changes Miles has specified include additional training for educators on individualized education programs, or IEP, the legally mandated plan for every student in special education. In Prather’s experience, some HISD educators “don’t even know how to read an IEP,” she said.

To Ramón, the Arabic Immersion Magnet School parent, it’s exasperating to see Miles rolling out drastic changes without allowing families to give meaningful feedback.

“Historically, the district has made sweeping changes to (special education) without parental input and that’s what’s gotten them into hot water,” Ramón said. “And this seems to be happening again.”

Miles acknowledged that he has not yet met directly with special education families in HISD, but said he would be “happy to do that.”

See here for some background. As I said before, I have no personal experience here, but HISD’s problems with special ed are well known and longstanding. The TEA has also struggled for a long time to adequately provide special ed services, so there’s a certain amount of skepticism here going in. Be that as it may, while it’s too early to evaluate what Mike Miles may have in mind, there are two themes we can see: the continued poor communication with stakeholders, and a non-political community that does not like the plan for libraries, for their own reasons. Maybe now would be a good time for Mike Miles to fulfill his promise to meet with these parents and their children and hear what they have to say. I look forward to the followup story after that happens.

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