An organization called Disability Rights Texas has filed a complaint with the Texas Education Agency claiming Ector County ISD is in violation of federal law.
Schools are required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1975 to actively identify and evaluate students who may need special education services, according to a news release issued by Disability Rights Texas.
The complaint says ECISD has failed to meet federally mandated timelines for evaluating students with disabilities, resulting in a denial of a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) under IDEA for as many as 500 children. Since the district says it still has more public records to provide to DRTx, it’s suspected that the number of children impacted is much higher, the release said.
Through Chief Communications Officer Mike Adkins, ECISD said in a statement late Tuesday that it became aware of the complaint late Tuesday afternoon.
“The main issue is one our school district has been fighting for several years, a severe shortage of diagnosticians and speech pathologists, resulting in longer waits for students to be evaluated. This is an issue facing school districts across the state. A typical evaluation can take up to 12 hours from initial parent contact to the full evaluation and then writing the report. Not only are evaluations required for new students, but full evaluations for qualified students are required again after three years,” the statement said.
In an effort to provide students the support they need, ECISD has taken several steps to increase the availability of qualified diagnosticians:
- Paying ECISD diagnosticians additional compensation to conduct reviews on Saturdays.
- Contracting with retired diagnosticians locally, and with others from across the state.
- Contracting with, and sometimes hiring full-time, virtual diagnosticians from elsewhere in Texas.
- Created a diagnostician pipeline program with the University of Texas Permian Basin and Sul Ross State University, in which ECISD provides funding for candidates to pursue certification. Currently, 4 people are in that program.
- Has $1.6 million in contracts in place with companies to help with speech evaluations and educational testing.
“ECISD is committed to its children and families. With new leadership in place in the Special Education Department, our staff will continue to do all we can to provide the evaluation and support needed for our children to be successful,” the statement said.
One of the students is eleven-year-old Jiovanni who is diagnosed with ADHD. His mother Lashawn suspects he might have autism and requested an evaluation for special education services in 2021 from ECISD. He still has not been tested, the news release stated.
While the family waits, Jiovanni has experienced bullying, lack of positive behavior supports, and academic struggles. In one instance the school called in the police when the ten-year-old was walking around the playground trying to calm himself. The long delay in evaluating him has resulted in critical services missed that are affecting his ability to succeed in school, the news release stated.
DRTx urges TEA to order the district to immediately provide evaluations or compensatory services for the students named in the complaint in addition to taking these district-wide actions:
- Review and revise district policies pertaining to its timelines for the completion of special education evaluations.
- Determine whether each impacted student in ECISD is eligible for compensatory education.
- Appoint a monitor to ECISD to assist the district in establishing and carrying out a corrective action plan and monitoring its compliance with that plan.
- Conduct an on-site audit of the educational files of all students receiving special education in the district to determine Child Find violations and training needs.
“What we are seeing in ECISD is a blatant violation of these students’ education rights,” said Tabitha Dwyer, DRTx attorney. “The longer these students wait for evaluations, the longer they go without the services they need to be successful in school. What the school district is doing is extremely alarming and damaging to these students’ futures.”