- Associated Press - Monday, October 24, 2016

ALICE, Texas (AP) - When the special education crackdown came to this small South Texas city, Willie Ruiz had a front-row seat.

The Houston Chronicle (https://bit.ly/2eo8guW) reports as the elementary school principal in 2004, he felt the pressure from state bureaucrats to reduce the numbers. He watched children with disabilities struggle to get services, and he saw them yanked out of much-needed help.

He reports he never thought that one day, his son would be one of them.

“No, not Marco,” Ruiz said. “I thought he was too severe for that.”

Marco Ruiz was born prematurely and was eventually diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. His parents fought for specialized education, and for years, the Alice Independent School District gave him counseling, tutoring and occupational therapy.

It is a drama that has unfolded hundreds of times across Texas over the past decade, but the Ruiz story has a twist: The parents are fighting the district, even though the father is still employed in a high-ranking position there - and hopes someday to become its superintendent.

“I am going to fight for my child, no matter what,” said Ruiz, 53, an Alice ISD alumnus who has spent his whole career in the district, rising from assistant football coach to director of operations. “If God wants me to be a superintendent, I will be. If I mess up by fighting, or by speaking out, so be it.”

The family’s story begins in 2005, the year Marco was born and also the year after the Texas Education Agency began telling school districts to give special education to only 8.5 percent of their students.

Willie and his wife, Sandra, noticed issues with their son immediately. Marco’s motor skills were awful. He refused to socialize and often covered his ears and hid under tables at restaurants.

At the time, 11.3 percent of Alice ISD kids got specialized education. Ruiz said he did not respond to the TEA target by cutting services, but he knows co-workers who did.

Marco was diagnosed in 2012, in second grade. With the help of his dad, who had been promoted to operations director, Marco got services. They helped him stay afloat, though his handwriting remained basically illegible.

By 2012, Alice had lowered its special ed rate to 9.4 percent, but it was still above the state target.

Last May, when Marco was re-evaluated and found to no longer need services, Willie Ruiz disagreed.

“I know it’s about numbers. I’ve worked here for 27 years, and I know what’s going on,” he said during the meeting, according to a recording.

The parents are fighting. They’ve hired an advocate, and they are getting an independent evaluation.

The most recent data, which is from 2015, showed that 8 percent of Alice ISD kids were in special education. It was the first time it fell below 8.5 percent.

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

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