TEA releases draft of special education corrective actions

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released an initial draft plan Thursday in response to an order from the U.S. Department of Education to implement corrective actions to ensure all special education students receive the supports guaranteed under federal law. The federal action comes in response to the denial of special education services to Texas children resulting from a de facto “cap” maintained by the agency, which was uncovered by a Houston Chronicle investigation.

Governor Greg Abbott ordered the initial draft ready by the end of the week, and the full text of the initial draft of the corrective action plan can be viewed on the TEA website. The proposed portions of the most interest to teachers include a professional development component and possible future changes to certification requirements.

Specifically, the plan explains, “TEA will create and execute on statewide professional development for all educators (general education, special education, and others), structured initially as a training institute for teachers around the state, and to include ongoing follow up. The content of this professional development will include elements both for inclusive practices and instructional techniques as well as broader identification and related Child Find practices. The content development will be informed by the perspectives of educators, special education students, and field experts. All participants will be required to demonstrate content proficiency and implementation before being noted as having participated in the full program.”

The section on certification is included in an appendix listing additional measures, which states, “TEA will explore possible changes to teacher certification and credentialing as it relates to requiring a demonstrated proficiency in areas related to special education.”

The initial proposal lays out four main corrective actions:

Corrective Action One

Documentation that the State’s system of general supervision requires that each ISD identifies, locates, and evaluates all children suspected of having a disability who need special education and related services, in accordance with section 612(a)(3) of the IDEA and its implementing regulation at 34 CFR §300.111, and makes FAPE available to all eligible children with disabilities in accordance with section 612(a)(1) of the IDEA and its implementing regulation at 34 CFR §300.101.

Under this section, TEA will hire additional staff to audit schools both on-site and remotely once every three to six years. The new Review and Support Team will have unrestricted access to staff and students, the ability to make scheduled and unannounced campus visits and the ability to conduct confidential interviews. According to the plan, “The purpose will be to have an authentic understanding of the district’s strengths and areas of growth, to make fast corrections and link districts to strong technical support options.” Additionally, TEA will explore incorporating students with disabilities and special education educators as reviewers.

Corrective Action Two

A plan and timeline by which TEA will ensure that each ISD will (i) identify, locate, and evaluate children enrolled in the ISD who should have been referred for an initial evaluation under the IDEA, and (ii) require IEP Teams to consider, on an individual basis, whether additional services are needed for children previously suspected of having a disability who should have been referred for an initial evaluation and were later found eligible for special education and related services under the IDEA, taking into consideration supports and services previously provided to the child.

Here, TEA discusses plans to hire a third-party contractor to conduct outreach. According to the text, “The cost of identifying and conducting assessments for students suspected of having a disability has always been the responsibility of the district, which will continue.” Districts will also be required to provide compensatory services to students found to have needed services who did not receive them. Districts will also be responsible for this cost, though TEA is proposing a five-year, $25 million fund to help some of them.

Corrective Action Three

A plan and timeline by which TEA will provide guidance to ISD staff in the State, including all general and special education teachers, necessary to ensure that ISDs (i) ensure that supports provided to struggling learners in the general education environment through RTI, Section 504, and the State’s dyslexia program are not used to delay or deny a child’s right to an initial evaluation for special education and related services under the IDEA; (ii) are provided information to share with the parents of children suspected of having a disability that describes the differences between RTI, the State dyslexia program, Section 504, and the IDEA, including how and when school staff and parents of children suspected of having a disability may request interventions and/or services under these programs; and (iii) disseminate such information to staff and the parents of children suspected of having a disability enrolled in the ISD’s schools, consistent with 34 CFR §300.503(c) .

Under this section, TEA will contract a vendor to create resource materials intended to explain the applicable laws to parents. This section includes the professional development component mentioned previously.

Corrective Action Four

A plan and timeline by which TEA will monitor ISDs’ implementation of the IDEA requirements described above when struggling learners suspected of having a disability and needing special education and related services under the IDEA are receiving services and supports through RTI, Section 504, and the State’s dyslexia program.

Here, TEA discusses the creation of a Special Education Escalation Team to offer technical assistance and intensive monitoring. The team will initially focus on districts with the highest self-reported ratio of missed identifications, then serve as an escalation pathway for the Review and Support Team.

The plan also lists the following actions in addition to the plan’s four core components:

  • Given TEA’s prior actions to expand its special education support team by 39 FTEs statewide, TEA will begin staff training across the agency so that all TEA staff provide consistent responses to stakeholders. These trainings will occur quarterly.
  • TEA will explore possible changes to teacher certification and credentialing as it relates to requiring a demonstrated proficiency in areas related to special education.
  • TEA is restructuring grant agreements with Educational Service Centers (ESCs) to be outcomes-oriented. Further, as part of the grant requirements, there will be close document review and approval of all ESC materials to ensure guidance in the field remains clear.
  • TEA is moving forward with the posting and hiring of a Special Education Director.

The agency has been ordered to seek input from stakeholders, including parents and educators, which will be collected through an online survey available on the TEA website January 23. The agency will accept public comment on this draft plan through February 18, 2018, after which a new Proposed Plan will be released on or around March 1. Public comments on this plan will be accepted through March 31. The agency expects to submit a Final State Corrective Action Plan to the U.S. Department of Education on or around April 18, 2018.

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