Here’s Part 2 of the Chron’s reporting on special education limits.
A few days before school began here in 2007, district administrators called an emergency staff meeting.
The Texas Education Agency had determined that they had too many students in special education, the administrators announced, and they had come up with a plan: Remove as many kids as possible.
The staffers did as they were told, and during that school year, the Laredo Independent School District purged its rolls, discharging nearly a third of its special education students, according to district data. More than 700 children were forced out of special education and moved back into regular education. Only 78 new students entered services.
“We basically just picked kids and weeded them out,” said Maricela Gonzalez, an elementary school speech therapist. “We thought it was unfair, but we did it.”
Gonzalez’s account, confirmed by two coworkers and district documents, illustrates how some schools across Texas have ousted children with disabilities from needed services in order to comply with an agency decree that no more than 8.5 percent of students should obtain specialized education. School districts seeking to meet the arbitrary benchmark have not only made services harder to get into but have resorted to removing hundreds and hundreds of kids, the Houston Chronicle has found.
In San Felipe Del Rio CISD, in West Texas, officials several years ago stopped serving children with one form of autism.
In Brazosport ISD, on the Gulf of Mexico, employees were instructed in 2009 to end tutoring for students with severe dyslexia.
In Northwest ISD, near Fort Worth, administrators told parents that they no longer gave speech therapy to high schoolers who stutter.
And in Alief ISD, two staff members recalled being instructed to falsely suggest to parents that their kids had somehow been cured of serious disabilities.
“I was told to go into all these meetings with parents of kids with different disabilities and tell them, ‘Oh, Johnny is doing so much better. So we want to try him in general education, and of course we’ll give him support,'” said Christine Damiani, who served as the Alief Middle School’s special education chair before retiring last year. “None of it was true.”
Overall, Texas special education students are now 55 percent more likely to be returned to general education Tweet this linkthan the national average, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Education.
They are five times more likely to be expelled to a disciplinary school, the statistics show.
“It’s OK for a child to be moved from special ed to general education if they truly no longer need the services,” said former Deputy Secretary of Education Frank Holleman, noting that federal law encourages schools to re-evaluate special ed students every three years. “But if a child is moved just to meet some arbitrary number, that’s the type of thing that can affect a child’s entire educational career and entire life. That needs to stop immediately.”
See here for the background, and as before be sure to read the whole thing. The TEA has since offered a tepid response, though not a solution, to the situation. Which I suppose still counts as progress. And speaking of such things, one more key person has finally taken notice of this.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick expressed concern Monday about the Texas Education Agency’s arbitrary 8.5 percent “benchmark” for special education enrollments in Texas schools that has driven the percentage of disabled children receiving therapy, counseling and tutoring to the lowest rate in the nation.
“Helping children with disabilities has been a priority for the Lt. Governor even before he was elected to public office and he was very concerned to learn about prior policies,” Patrick’s spokesman, Alejandro Garcia, said in a statement. “Our office is working very closely with the Commissioner of Education to ensure that students are identified and served appropriately.”
The move aligns the conservative leader of the state Senate with state House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, who also has expressed concern about the benchmark.
Gov. Greg Abbott’s office has so far declined comment.
State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said she was “shocked and outraged” by the Chronicle’s report on Sunday, in which one former Laredo ISD elementary school speech therapist, Maricela Gonzalez, described how she and other were ordered to purge the special education rolls. “We basically just picked kids and weeded them out,” she said.
Sen. Zaffirini vowed to join with other lawmakers to create legislation to eliminate the special education “cap.”
It is unclear how Patrick, a former chairman of the Senate’s Education Committee, hopes to address the issue. His office declined comment.
Such leadership. Kudos to Patrick for finally having an opinion, but it doesn’t mean much until he also has an opinion about what to do about it. The whole reason for this 8.5% cap was to save money. Lifting that cap, or whatever else may be done to address this, will necessarily cost more money. Does Dan Patrick support spending more money on special education, or will he simply demand that the TEA lift this cap and tell the school districts to figure it out on their own? I know which option I’d bet on, but for now at least all we can do is speculate, and keep raising hell about this.