September 16, 2016 This week, The Houston Chronicle published an article that details one of the many concerns in the Texas public school system. In the article, Denied: How Texas keeps tens of thousands of children out of special education story by Brian M. Rosenthal. School districts have been refusing to evaluate and identify special needs students based on an inappropriate cap of 8.5% established by TEA. Regardless of the excuses and TEA denying that students have wrongfully been swept under the rug, which is exactly what school districts defend themselves by saying, many districts interpret the TEA monitoring system as a cap on the number of eligible students who can receive services. Some districts fear that exceeding the 8.5% cap will place the district under scrutiny and result in the district being placed on a Corrective Action Plan if their subpopulation for Special Education exceeds 8.5%. Does it matter why districts refuse to identify and evaluate students? No. The fact is they have denied many students over the years the opportunity to be identified thus causing students with disabilities to fail as they do not receive services. Most parents do not know they need to formally request a special education evaluation; however, even the ones that do formally request evaluations are still being denied. Bringing in outside testing, doctor’s evaluations, and showing years of ineffective accommodations and lack of progress still do not persuade the districts to evaluate students. Parents expect that school personnel do what is in their child’s best interest. Many parents look at the school as the experts when they do not know where else to turn. It is both shocking and disgusting to find out that schools are simply taking a “don’t’ ask, don’t tell” approach to responding to the needs of disabled students. Some districts convince parents that they are unable to offer services. These schools recommend private or homeschooling. Other districts may suggest the parent obtain a private evaluation at the parent’s expense. Some districts tell parents that there is no need to evaluate because the student won’t qualify anyway. Some school professionals may say there is no educational need for an evaluation. It seems these school professionals have the gift of clairvoyance. However, question of whether there is an educational need for services only gets addressedafter the evaluation. How can anyone know whether there is an educational need for special education services if no evaluation is done? Some teachers may focus only on academic performance, i.e., grades, but ignore the student’s non-academic needs related to his disability, such as the need for behavioral goals or social skills training. Disabilities come in different forms, many of which lead to behavioral challenges, not just academic ones. School districts have even tried to “appease” parents by wrongfully substituting a 504 plan for special education services under an IEP. Don’t be fooled – 504 plans do not provide the same protection and level of services as an IEP. 504 plans do not require parent collaboration as in an IEP. Unfortunately, there appears to be an epidemic of school officials refusing to evaluate students so they will not have to identify them or educate them. In other words, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell! IDEA guarantees all students a right to a free and appropriate public education. The Ramage Law Group will fight for the right of all students with disabilities to be identified and served. The blame game between districts and TEA is causing students to suffer the consequences of bureaucrats who arbitrarily make decisions based on meaningless data and monetary considerations rather than doing what the law requires – meet the individual and unique needs of each and every disabled student. Instead of evaluating the student, districts are simply sweeping the concern under the rug or putting up so many road blocks that it becomes impossible for parents and even teachers to advocate for the student. Shedding light on the situation is a step in the right direction for Texas students. Let us hope that the blaming will stop and Texas will put children first. Until then, You are your child’s voice and best teacher! The Ramage Law Group has authoritative solutions for special needs children!