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Federal Officials Say Texas Illegally Denied Thousands Special Education Services

NORTH TEXAS (CBS11 I-TEAM) - In a letter to the Texas Education Agency, the federal government wrote Texas education officials violated federal laws by denying tens of thousands of students with disabilities special education services.

The U.S. Department of Education's letter comes after a 15-month review into the dramatic decline in special education enrollment in Texas in the past decade.

The CBS 11 I-Team reported back in October 2016, statewide special education enrollment dropped from 11.2 percent of the student population in 2004 to 8.5 percent in 2015.

This puts Texas well below the national special education enrollment average of 13 percent.

Federal education officials wrote the Texas Education Agency's decision in 2004 to use an 8.5 perceont enrollment target for schools districts resulted in the decline in enrollment.

To avoid being penalized by the TEA for exceeding the 8.5 percent benchmark, Texas school districts "took actions designed to decrease" the number of students who received special education services, according to the federal report.

Parents told the I-Team some schools refused to even evaluate their children to see if they would qualify for services the federal government requires districts to provide students with disabilities.

Federal education officials wrote this policy violates the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

"Every child with a disability must have appropriate access to special education and related services that meet his or her unique needs," said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos in a written statement.

Advocates for children with disabilities have praised the federal report.

"It is the federal government telling families we heard you, we understand, and you are right," said Kym Rogers with Disability Rights Texas. "Your children should have been getting these services and it was the actions of TEA that kept them from getting them."

Shortly after the federal Department of Education released its report, Governor Greg Abbott sent a letter to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.

Abbott wrote "such failures are not acceptable" and gave the TEA seven days to prepare a corrective action plan.

Last spring, Texas lawmakers ended the policy of having special education enrollment benchmarks.

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