January 3, 2017 11:30 am -

What the heck has become of the state that gave us Sam Houston, Van Cliburn, and LBJ? Oh, right: Greg Abbott and the burn-it-all-down, shred-the-social-safety-net-because-FREEDOM! G.O.P.:

The parents of a 9-year-old legally blind girl are taking action after the public school system in Houston, Texas repeatedly refused to provide special ed services.

According to the Houston Chronicle, “Texas now gives special education services to a lower percentage of students than any other state.” The paper reported that there had seen a “staggering drop” in the number of disabled children receiving special ed services since the state imposed an arbitrary target for services in 2004.

Data collected by the Texas Education Agency between 2004 and 2014 show that there has been a 45.9 percent drop in special ed services for students with learning disabilities. There was a 42.3 percent drop in services to students with mental illness, a 38.6 decrease for students with orthopedic impairment and a 92.7 percent plummet for students with developmental delays.

Overall, 8.5 percent of students in Texas receive special education services compared with 13.5 percent nationwide.

There are real-world consequences for students like 9-year-old Sophia Salehi, who is legally blind and cannot read anything that is more than three inches away from her face.

Salehi’s parents told the Chronicle that Houston ISD had first refused special ed services to their daughter when she was 3 years old. Instead, her parents enrolled her in a private school, where “Sophia struggled and often hurt herself by running into things.”

Sophia is not alone:

Melissa Ferrell re-read the report, trying to control her anger.

Her son Sam had Down syndrome. He did not always speak in complete sentences. He could not hold a pencil. He had trouble going to the bathroom.

And yet the Austin Independent School District was claiming that he did not qualify for special education services.

“Specialized instruction is not needed,” the evaluation report said.

Children with Down syndrome used to automatically qualify for special ed, Ferrell says she was told. But that had changed.

“It was horrible to be in the position of saying, ‘No, my child is actually not that smart,'” Ferrell recalled recently. “I thought I’d be fighting to make sure that his special education program would have some inclusion in the regular classroom in addition to the services. I never thought I’d have to convince them that he really needed help.”

Ferrell’s story illuminates a jarring reality: In Texas today, even children with severe disabilities, including deafness and blindness, can’t always get special education services. Tweet this link

Most of the discussion surrounding the Texas Education Agency’s special education enrollment benchmark has centered on the denial of services to thousands of kids with more common disabilities, such as dyslexia, ADHD and speech impairments. But statistics show that some children with rarer conditions also have been turned away.

The special ed rate has dropped 18.4 percent for Texas kids with traumatic brain injuries, 15.3 percent for hearing impairments and 8.3 percent for visual disabilities. Tweet this link Nationwide, the rates for those categories have slightly decreased, but not by nearly as much as in Texas.

The category of intellectual disability, which includes Down syndrome, has increased slightly in Texas, but advocates said that is because of changes in how schools have classified different disabilities. Texas still provides services to a lower percentage of those students than the national average.

For Sam, an unreservedly friendly boy who spends much of his time playing with a world of animal toys, the denial of special education services was harmful, according to his mother.

The school had claimed that Sam did not need special ed services because he could read on grade level.

Such decisions have become common in Texas, according to dozens of educators, even though federal law has made clear that kids do not need to be failing to get special ed.

Ferrell eventually hired a lawyer and convinced Austin ISD to provide robust services, records show, but it took a year.


D.B. Hirsch
D.B. Hirsch is a political activist, news junkie, and retired ad copy writer and spin doctor. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.