- Associated Press - Monday, December 12, 2016

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Under pressure from the state, some Texas school districts are reducing the number of special education students by shutting out thousands of English-language learners in a move critics call clear discrimination against immigrant families.

In one school district alone, in the South Texas city of Victoria, just 39 of nearly 1,000 English-language learners receive services such as tutoring and speech therapy, which amounts to a 70 percent drop from a decade ago, according to a review by the Houston Chronicle (https://bit.ly/2gx5h3k ).

The newspaper has found that while many districts are warning teachers that English learners are overidentified in special education, statistics show the opposite is true.

Among the tactics districts use to decline services, some have refused to conduct eligibility evaluations in languages other than English and have rejected medical records from other countries, according to data and dozens of interviews with current and former educators. There are districts that have eliminated special education for international students altogether at some schools.

“It’s almost impossible to get my kids into special ed,” said Arlene De Los Santos, a middle school teacher in Victoria. “They have to have very, very severe needs for the school to even consider it.”

The Texas Education Agency says ideally just 8.5 percent of the student population should be in special education, and has audited school districts for exceeding the benchmark and penalized districts for over-identification of minorities.

In defending the benchmark to federal regulators last month, agency officials acknowledged “some possible under-representation” of English learners. They declined to answer the newspaper’s questions about the restrictions.

“Even if the policy was not meant to be discriminatory, it has clearly had that effect,” said Gary Orfield, a social scientist and co-founder of The Civil Rights Project while at Harvard University, who called it the most outrageous education policy he’s seen. “If schools are creating systems in which students are not getting services simply because of the language they speak, that’s discrimination.”

Many educators say immigrants often don’t understand how special ed works. Part of the reason for the drop in English learners, they said, is that parents are unable to fight the hurdles that the state agency target has introduced for families seeking special education.

“These parents don’t understand the system,” said Iliana Benitez, a social worker at Baylor College of Medicine. “Culturally, they’re not inclined to speak up … and nobody tells them they have rights.”


Information from: Houston Chronicle, https://www.houstonchronicle.com

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