Saturday, March 25, 2017

Houston Special Education Director Resigns. Were students denied services?

Interesting times.  Does this explain why families are told kids with autism cant be diagnosed until they are 4 or 6 ?  I wondered why this happens. - JR

Houston Special Ed Director Resigns Amid Denial of Services

The director of special education for Houston public schools has resigned amid reports that the school district systematically denied services to thousands of students with disabilities.

The director of special education in Houston public schools resigned Thursday in the wake of reports that the district had systematically denied services to thousands of students with disabilities.
The Houston Board of Education voted unanimously to accept the resignation of Assistant Superintendent Sowmya Kumar ahead of a private committee meeting on special education.
The district did not announce a replacement for Kumar, who had been with the district since 2010.
Several officials declined to comment on the resignation, but board member Diana Davila, who has an autistic nephew and a dyslexic nephew enrolled in HISD schools, said the district is ready to examine and change the ways it identifies and provides services to disabled students.
"I have mixed feelings. We know it's an issue, and we need to work to make sure all students get the services they need - regardless if they have teachers, district staff or trustees in their families," said Davila, who missed the vote because she arrived late. Fellow board members Rhonda Skillern-Jones, Manuel Rodriguez Jr. and Jolanda Jones also were absent.
Some parents and school officials had been calling for Kumar's removal since the Houston Chronicle reported in December that her department pressured schools to lower the percentage of students receiving special education services.
Embraced cap
The Chronicle investigation found that HISD slashed hundreds of positions from the special education department, dissuaded evaluators from diagnosing disabilities until second grade and created a list of "exclusionary factors" that disqualify students from getting services, among other tactics.
Records also showed that the largest school district in Texas enthusiastically embraced a controversial state policy that has effectively capped the percentage of students allowed to receive services at 8.5 percent, driving special ed enrollments down in the state to the lowest in America by far.
As a result, only 7.3 percent of HISD students now receive special education services - a lower rate than in any other of the 50 biggest American cities other than Dallas. The four lowest cities in the country are all in Texas - Dallas, Houston, Fort Worth and Arlington. Cleveland ranks first in America, with 22.5 percent of students receiving special education services, followed by Milwaukee at 20.6 percent and Boston at 20 percent.
Federal law obligates public schools to provide special education services to all eligible children with disabilities. About 13 percent of students nationally receive services.
Hope to see real changes'
State officials have now vowed to eliminate the benchmark, and the U.S. Department of Education is investigating whether students were harmed. As part of the investigation, federal officials visited HISD earlier this month.
The news of Kumar's departure came the same day as HISD launched its own internal review in earnest with the first meeting of a special committee to review the district's special education operations. Among its first tasks is to find an independent firm to audit the district's special education department, which has not been done since 2010.
The committee is slated to present its findings and recommendations to the board either at the end of this year or early in 2018.
Davila said the committee will provide something that's been long-missing in HISD's discussions about special education - parent input.
Other board members promised a transparent and comprehensive review.

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