Whenever we read or hear about special education in public schools, it is important to remember, that since the beginning of Public Law 94-142 (IDEA) in 1975, many policymakers have resisted funding services for students who learn differently.
The bill was so unpopular that President Gerald Ford refused to have a Rose Garden signing. Since that time, parents have struggled to obtain the services their children deserve, while questioning policy changes.
In 2004, the Texas Education Agency, in what is being called “the largest-scale violation of the law (PL 94-142 now IDEA) since its passage in 1975,” put a cap in place that denied as many as 200,000 students special education. Now the state has a federal order to remove that cap and provide the services students with disabilities deserve. The state says they saved billions, but they need to return services to children immediately.
Response to Intervention is a multi-tier assessment program for early identification of students with learning and behavioral needs. Students receive screening, and those identified as struggling are supposed to get quality instruction at their Tier level.
Too often RtI leaves students to flounder in overcrowded classrooms without the necessary resources or assistance they need. While RtI sounds good in principle, there have been questions as to whether it is used to deny children special education services.
Texas officials insisted that teachers screen students with RtI before considering evaluation for special education services. This raises questions about other school districts. Are parents told their students must go through RtI before they receive an evaluation for special education services?
As the new school year begins, it’s the perfect time to ask this question. Parents must be informed that they can still request an evaluation whether or not RtI is used to screen students. Texas failed to do this.
The Texas Classroom Teachers Association says:
Although TEA’s Response to Intervention webpage provides that “states and [school districts] have an obligation and requirement under federal law to see that evaluations of children suspected of having a disability are not delayed or denied because of schools using an RTI strategy,” teachers have reported, as detailed in the Houston Chronicle article, that they have been instructed by their districts that RTI procedures must be fully implemented before referring students for special education services.
Many of the students denied services in Texas had reading disabilities or dyslexia.
Concurrently, in 2004, along with No Child Left Behind, IDEA was once again reauthorized. This placed more students into inclusion classes. The new law stated, “A public agency may not identify any public or private school child as a child with a disability if the determinant factor is lack of appropriate instruction in reading or math.” This determination is difficult to make. Critics might blame teachers but it is difficult to prove and could also be used to deny students services.
When students with disabilities are placed in general classes, they should still get assistance for their academic and behavioral needs. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) bragged that the decrease in their special education numbers meant that RtI was working. But in reality RtI was being used to deny students the necessary federally funded special education services.
This should raise a red flag for parents in any school district that uses RtI.
It’s critical that parents check to see what kind of remediation is being done with RtI. If little improvement is noted, or if parents and teachers believe a learning problem exists, parents should demand an evaluation.
As far as Texas is concerned, TEA spent $84.5 million to come up with a plan to fix special education. How has this money been used? Will they better identify students with disabilities? Or will they shift the money into for-profit charter schools and companies that are ill-defined and unproven.
Some still worry about the TEA administration, including Mike Morath the superintendent who has a background in computer software development and investment, and a staff that includes those with flimsy backgrounds from Teach for America.
The TEA started to spend $4.4 million for a no-bid contract to enlist the services of SPEDx which collects and analyzes IEP data on students in special education. Their new special education director Laurie Kash was fired a day after questioning the contract.
For parents of students with special needs, the stakes are high in Texas and across the country.
What about accountability? The Texas Education Agency broke the law for years, and students were hurt. The federal government was in the thick of this trying to reduce services with NCLB and the IDEA reauthorization.
The loss of special education services in Texas reflects the sinister and terrible treatment of children since No Child Left Behind. Texas is not alone. Most states have current efforts underway to save money and cut services in special education.
Look carefully at the local and state use of IDEA and whether students are being adequately served in their local schools. The original purpose of Public Law 94-142 was to ensure that all students be welcome in public schools, and that they be allowed to learn in the least restrictive environment with assistance. We must continue to fulfil this promise. The focus must be on the needs of students in every state.
Here are helpful resources for all parents in Texas and beyond.