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‘Listening Tour’ Triggers Outrage Over Texas Special Ed Access

The feds are touring Texas cities to give the public an opportunity to speak their minds over reports the State capped special education enrollment, allegedly shutting eligible students out of these services.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston) fired up the crowd when she said her piece at one of these U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) listening sessions co-hosted by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). She suggested the federal government sue Texas over alleged “discriminatory practices.”

Her remarks were prompted by a man at the Houston session Monday evening. He said: “The State of Texas has sued the federal government 40 times in the current administration. I’d love to see the Department of Justice return the favor in this one case.”

HISD Parent Advocates recorded the man and then, Jackson Lee’s subsequent response. “You’re absolutely right,” she said. “We made a career in Texas out of suing the federal government for nonsense. We’ve also denied the expanded Medicaid. I’m not arguing for any kind of healthcare but when we had it for five years we had $100 million that the state refused that could be used with respect to these children.”

She continued, “Right now, the federal government does have authority. We can sue this state. We can hold this state for discriminatory practices under IDEA and under ADA. And that’s what I want them to do. We’ve investigated enough. We know what’s going on. You’re being denied. Children are being denied right now…They need to put up or shut up.”

Houston Public Media reported Jackson Lee also said she supported “a notice of intent” for the Department of Education “and maybe the Department of Justice for the state to fix this problem immediately.” She voiced similar sentiments about suing the state under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). At this session, she sat on a panel of federal and state education officials. Reportedly, 100-plus parents, educators, advocates, and students attended.

The feds called for these sessions following a recent Houston Chronicle investigation that alleged Texas school districts which provided special ed services to more than 8.5 percent of students got penalized. The report also asserted Texas is the only state that ever set a special education target causing it to plummet from near the national average of 13 percent to its present 8.5 percent, which they called “the lowest in the country.”

In early October, the TEA received a letter from OSERS regarding these allegations. In a seven-page letter on November 2, Education Commissioner Mike Morath responded that the TEA never set a cap, limit, or policy on the number or percent of special ed students Texas school districts can, or should, serve, which Breitbart Texas reported. The TEA denied assertions made by the Houston newspaper, including claims that state educators engaged in “concerted, widespread efforts” to deny eligible students with disabilities the special education services they needed.

On November 17, the TEA issued school districts a reminder about their responsibilities under IDEA, in response to inquiries over school district “child find” obligations and the use of Response to Intervention (RTI) strategies, and policies and procedures designed to prevent the mis-identification or over-identification of students in need of special education services. The TEA said they wanted to clarify these issues and would work to eliminate any confusion around them.

The federally-mandated Child Find requires school districts to identify, locate, and evaluate children with disabilities who are in need of early intervention or special education services. It applies to all children from birth through age 21 and includes youngsters who attend public and private schools, as well as those considered highly mobile, illegal immigrants, and who are wards of the state, as Breitbart Texas reported.

Besides Houston, a meeting was held Monday in Dallas where parents expressed their frustrations over accessing special ed services as did families in El Paso on Tuesday night. Others in Austin and the Rio Grande Valley remain upcoming. These listening sessions intend to give the public an opportunity to comment on the availability and timely identification and evaluation of those children eligible for services under IDEA.

Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.

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