Persistent Special Education Deprivations in Texas: A Day Of Reckoning
Over the weekend a friend forwarded an article published in Bloomberg about special education deprivations in Texas. I thought it would be a good opportunity to use the story to illustrate the kinds of obstacles that parents of special needs children often face. The story was familiar to me because I had been keeping abreast of some of the special education legal issues in Texas. What I did not realize when I first opened the article is that it was written by John O'Neil whom my wife and I met a few months ago at the CASP benefit we all attended in March. John had mentioned briefly that he was working on a story of this nature but it had fallen off my radar. Nothing gets past my wife, however, and she quickly pointed out that it could be written by the person we had spoken with at the CASP event. I thought it over for a minute and realized that my wife was right, as she often is.
While John's article focuses on recent developments within the Texas educational system, it highlights a number of barriers that I think parents of children with special needs anywhere oftentimes encounter in pursuing appropriate special education programs and services for their children. Some of the barriers and issues highlighted in John's article include:
The relationship between delinquent local school districts and federal government agencies (or federal courts) that are responsible for enforcing IDEA
Shortages of qualified teachers, psychologists, and therapists
Certification and qualifications of teachers employed in the school district
Possible cuts to other school spending
Backlash from the general education community
In my experience in New York, clients and prospective clients frequently ask me, "Why won't the school district agree to provide the special education programs/services that my child clearly needs and is entitled to?" For instance, parents will go in to their school district meetings with evaluations, experts, and persuasive legal arguments carefully organized to support their position about their child's needs, only to be brushed aside by the school district team and brusquely told that their child does not meet the necessary criteria to obtain the services the parents are seeking. The team usually goes on to say that if the parents have a problem with the team's determination they can pursue their due process rights through the impartial hearing system, which may be effective in the long run but usually is not a quick fix.
In my 10 years of practice in this field, these issues have always existed and I do not have any reason to believe that they will go away. The silver lining is that in New York City we have a robust impartial hearing system that gives parents a forum for formally addressing these issues and resolving their claims. Even in states where the impartial hearing system may not be as structured, parents have the right to pursue their rights under the IDEA in federal court. Parents always have the right to avail themselves of legal counsel to assist them with pursuing their claims. And if it is established that a school district has engaged in a persistent pattern of depriving students with disabilities of services to which they are entitled, a day of reckoning will eventually come, as it did in Texas.