Photo: Marie D. De Jesus, Staff
AUSTIN — Parents, students and education advocates have until midnight Sunday to provide feedback on a draft plan to overhaul Texas’ special education services.
In January, the Texas Education Agency published a 13-page corrective action plan after the U.S. Department of Education found TEA illegally led school districts across the state to delay or deny special education services to students because of an arbitrary enrollment cap.
The state plans to hire more special education staff, increase training and provide special education services to students who were previously denied services.
TEA officials have said they want parents, educators and others to provide as much feedback as possible, so the agency set up an online survey, an email account and are hosting listening sessions around the state. But those sessions are not open to the public, and some special education advocates say it has been difficult for parents to get more information on the in-person sessions.
“Parents who would like to participate in an in-person discussion are receiving very conflicting information,” said Cheryl Fries with Texans for Special Education Reform. “It’s very inconsistent and very unclear to parents how they can give input.”
Lauren Callahan, a TEA spokeswoman, said the best way for parents to provide feedback is through the online survey or by sending an email to TexasSPED@tea.texas.gov. The in-person sessions were purposefully set up as focus groups that require prior registration and are only open to parents and students because the agency wants to protect student privacy, Callahan said.
“The goal is for parents and students to come and genuinely tell us what they think,” said Callahan, who acknowledged that the state’s regional education centers may be handling the focus groups differently.
If parents are interested in attending a focus group, Callahan said parents should contact their education service center.
Problems with special education were brought to light by a series of investigative reports in the Houston Chronicle. For more than a decade, TEA judged a school district’s performance partly by the percentage of students receiving special education services.
But the benchmark, set at 8.5 percent, prompted school districts to limit access to special education resources, the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs said in a letter to Texas education officials in January.
TEA will update it’s draft plan in early March, and again solicit feedback before submitting the state’s final plan in mid-April.
Alejandra Matos covers politics, immigration and education policy. Follow her on Twitter. Email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org