The Austin school district is requesting a review of the Texas Education Agency’s March 31 report that recommended hiring a state warden to oversee the district’s special education department and help fix a backlog of assessments.
However, in an announcement Monday afternoon, the district said it needed more time to implement its work-in-progress plans to complete the hundreds of backlogged special education evaluations.
The discussion unfolds in Austin against the backdrop of a TEA takeover of the Houston school district, a decision that has been in the works for years and the state said was prompted by low academic scores at some schools.
Unlike the situation in Houston, TEA is not proposing to take over the Austin area. Instead, the administrator will place a few people to help supervise the Austin Special Education Department.
Instead of the governor, the officials said Monday afternoon that the district wants the TEA to install a monitor to report on the county’s work, not obligate him.
Interim Superintendent Matias Segura said in a statement that the district is experiencing a backlog in assessing whether students should have special education accommodations, but since January it has implemented a new system for tracking those evaluations, giving special education staff financial incentives and creating systemic changes. .
“We believe the least disruptive way to build momentum toward sustainable transformative improvements in private education is to allow time for our comprehensive plan for special education, which was developed earlier this year, to fully take hold,” Segura said.
TEA announced Austin’s guardianship decision less than 24 hours after the district extended Segura’s interim appointment to lead the district through the next year, in part to draw more ongoing attention to the special education backlog.
Austin County has faced parental complaints about long waiting times for children to receive evaluations for special education services. Evaluation is a key, federally mandated first step in determining whether a child needs additional support at school.
As of March 20, 1,808 students were waiting after the deadline for either an initial evaluation or a re-evaluation, in which staff evaluates new or different services for the student, depending on the school district.
The district completed 4,000 assessments between May and the end of March, according to the data.
Disability Rights Texas, a nonprofit advocating for people with disabilities, sued the district in 2021 over a backlog of evaluations. The case is still in the court system.
In a letter, Austin School Board Chairman Arati Singh asked TEA to delay its decision on the preserver and to place a superintendent over the district instead.
“We hope our plan, including the work already under way, will demonstrate to TEA that we fully own the challenges before us, that we have the ability to solve the problems, and that we have a clear path forward,” Singh said. “We publicly hold ourselves accountable for the success of these efforts and know our community in Austin and TEA will do the same.”
Unlike the Houston acquisition, the custody oversight will be specific to the private education. State appointees make binding decisions about operations related to the district’s special education department.
The district’s application will now come before Education Commissioner Mike Morath for consideration while he makes his final decision on hiring a ranger.
If the district does not agree with an inheritance decision, officials can appeal to the state’s office for administrative hearings, an attorney assigned to the district told the Austin school trustees during an April 3 meeting.
While some parents awaiting special education evaluations have welcomed the potential for change, others worry that the TEA — which has drawn federal outrage over its treatment of special education students — won’t be helpful.
Members of Education Austin, the union representing district employees, came to a board meeting on April 3 to express their opposition to TEA’s involvement in the district.