Texas School Accused of Special Ed Wrongdoing

Marlin, TX

More woes surfaced in an already troubled Texas school district after an administrator alleged wrongdoing in the special education department where students may have been improperly awarded course credit.

The allegations stem from a March 29 complaint filed with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) by Marlin High School Assistant Principal RoShon Jackson, who, on March 22, was one of two school district employees placed on paid administrative leave.

The Marlin Independent School District serves less than 1,000 students. In September, the TEA took over this rural school district by installing a state-appointed board of managers to help turn it around after it failed to meet requisite accountability standards for five consecutive years, Breitbart Texas reported. Should Marlin ISD fail again, it faces possible closure. The district also wrestles with a $1.1 million deficit.

Jackson’s leave came less than 24 hours after the board of managers voted against slashing administrator and teacher jobs, the Waco Tribune-Herald reported. Downsizing staff would have helped the financially flailing district. However, after Jackson and Athletic Director Bennie Huitt were put on leave, speculation swirled this was part of the district’s attempt to address its budgetary shortfall.

The board of managers also voted to cut the district’s special education department, outsourcing these functions to the Falls County Special Education Co-op through a shared services agreement. KWTX reported that would save Marlin ISD around $350,000.

In the complaint, Jackson accuses Marlin ISD of not following state curriculum standards and guidelines, claiming students enrolled in the district’s Success Academy received less coursework assignments and completed a year’s worth of school work in a week or less. She asserted this resulted in students developing learning gaps “which makes them unsuccessful on state testing and denies them the right to a free and appropriate public education,” noted the Tribune-Herald.

Jackson wrote that students who were failing classes and severely behind in progress, “miraculously finished in time frames impossible to meet” and gave an example of a math course section with assignments, vocabulary, and a mastery test that was completed in less than two minutes. She called this an “alarming violation” of the Admission, Review, and Dismissal, or ARD, process and “denies students the opportunity to be successful in real life college settings and employment.”

ARD is part of the special education process where teachers and support staff meet with parents to craft a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).

The Success Academy opened in the fall of 2016 to help struggling students close achievement gaps and improve testing scores. The district has roughly 100 special education students plus 12 life skills and preschool children. The Waco newspaper indicated Jackson’s complaint asked the TEA to look into whether or not Marlin ISD properly implemented IEPs for students enrolled at the academy between March 29, 2016 and March 29, 2017. However, Marlin ISD Superintendent Michael Seabolt said the academy did not exist last year.

He added the district began to probe this matter on February 27 when Jackson originally filed an internal grievance. He called her allegations unfounded.

“We have not be able to substantiate any of the claims, so far, especially the most egregious which is students graduating without proper credits,” Seabolt told KWTX. He said the complaint named 33 students and Jackson served as the sole administrator who signed off for each of them to attend the Success Academy.

The TEA requested additional documents from Marlin ISD that Seabolt must provide by May 12. The agency hopes to wrap this up by May 28. The matter could resolve itself if Jackson agrees to accept the school district’s investigation findings and proposed fixes. Otherwise, the TEA will decide.

Seabolt stated he would not discuss the ongoing investigation further. Jackson said she hired an attorney and could not comment.

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