Federal investigation confirms thousands of Texas students were denied special education services

A report released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education shows the Texas Education Agency denied access to special education services to thousands of students, breaking federal law.

Those policies found to be in violation were implemented about 14 years ago.

“It's like I wanted to clap and I wanted to cry at the same time,” said Maggie Suter, a parent who has children with special needs.

Parents like Maggie have spent the past decade pointing out the issues.

“The civil rights of these children, they were denied,” Suter said.

Hearing that from the U.S. Department of Education finally validates her fear.

“I wasn't surprised at all. I've known for a long time that this has been going on,” said Suter.

At the same time, being right still hurts.

“Seeing that in writing, it crushed me to think about these kids. We're talking about hundreds of thousands of children each year in Texas that didn't receive services, or maybe received services eventually, and what effect that's had on those children,” said Chris Masey with the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities.

The U.S. Department of Education report explained how the Texas Education Agency failed to guarantee "appropriate public education was made available to all children with disabilities."

The report cited an 8.5 percent enrollment cap of students eligible to get special education services. That means it’s possible hundreds of thousands of students didn't get the help they needed. “There's very little doubt that their lives were affected, their self-esteem, their ability to hold a job,” Masey said.

Suter said she moved one of her children to private school after he was removed from classes for children with dyslexia. “Looking back now, I know that he was probably a victim of what was happening at the time in the schools,” said Suter.

The TEA has denied using any such cap, but last year Texas legislators took up the issue. “We had to actually pass a law last legislative session to forbid it from happening again,” Suter said.

When Gov. Greg Abbott learned of the Department of Education's findings, he sent a letter to the TEA demanding a corrective action plan in the next seven days.

Commissioner of Education Mike Morath said he shares Abbott’s urgency to correct issues outlined in the report, but parents who have been fighting for changes for years remain skeptical.

“There's no trust left. I think that it's going to take some time and some work to win back the trust of parents and the public as far as special education is concerned,” said Suter.

Although many advocates for children with special needs say the action is better late than never, they also say it is still too late to help so many people.

“The kids that are now adults that weren't identified and didn't get the services and support they needed and dropped out and ended up in low paying jobs or in jail, the course of their entire life is different because they didn't get the support they needed in school,” Suter said.

The TEA said they will outline specific steps to address issues identified in the report by the Department of Education.