Feds to visit ECISD campusesSpecial education is the topic of a state-wide investigation

The Ector County Independent School District is among 12 Texas school districts that will be visited by U.S. Department of Education officials as part of an investigation on how districts find and serve special education students.
In a letter to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, Acting Director of the Office of Special Education Programs Ruth E. Ryder said the appointments will be to collect district-level and school-level data on referral, child find and evaluation procedures and practices.
“We anticipate that we will collect and examine state-level, district, level, school-level and child-specific data, as well as policies and procedures, in order to conduct our review of these practices. We will also interview selected staff involved with the referral, child find and evaluation processes in districts we select,” Ryder wrote.
An article in the Dallas Morning News Thursday said the “federal investigation was announced following a series of articles last year in the Houston Chronicle that found that Texas set an 8.5 percent target enrollment for special education programs that puts pressure on districts to stay within that rate.”
Texas Education Agency officials have denied that contention.
“The Texas Education Agency continues to work with the U.S. Department of Education to ensure federal officials receives factual information regarding this important issue. Commissioner Mike Morath remains confident that Texas school districts are aware of their obligations to identify and provide special education services to students,” an agency statement said.
ECISD Superintendent Tom Crowe said Thursday that U.S. Department of Education officials will go to Gonzales and Burleson elementary schools Feb. 27. Crowe said the special education populations at those campuses have dropped due to a new quad system and rezoning.
The quad system divides the district into four parts so services can be provided at neighborhood schools, Crowe said.
Low test scores have put the district under scrutiny from the Texas Education Agency, but not turning students away from special education services, Crowe said. He said he is not worried about the visits because the district doesn’t have any caps on providing services to special education students.
Ryder’s letter said a blog put up by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services generated 421 individual comments in a month. A majority of the comments received on the blog and in listening sessions conducted the week of Dec. 12, 2016, expressed “serious concerns” about the state’s compliance with the child find requirements under a section of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, Ryder’s letter stated.