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TEA to appoint a conservator to Austin ISD, citing 'systemic failures' with students needing special education

An investigation revealed that the AISD "continuously failed to meet special education requirements under federal and state statutes."

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is appointing a conservator over the Austin Independent School District, citing what a special investigation called "systemic failures" found within the school district's special education department.

The TEA launched a special investigation into the district in late summer 2021 and found that Austin ISD had failed to properly evaluate students eligible for special education and provide them the proper resources. The report also indicated that the district did not make significant fixes despite being on an improvement plan.

The Austin ISD board said it has been working on special education issues since January, including:

  • Creating a centralized database to track evaluations and new systems to support special education services;
  • Working with special education expert Dr. Frances Stetson and her team to provide training and improved systems for campus teams and Central Office staff;
  • Launching a recruitment effort to hire educational diagnosticians and licensed specialists in school psychology, which includes providing up to a $20,000 annual incentive;
  • Forming an ad hoc committee of the board that meets multiple times a month to monitor activities and progress.

A conservator's role is to serve as a manager of the school district. This role serves as a middleman to ensure the school board and superintendent are taking proper steps to solve any issues flagged by the TEA.

Under the conservatorship, a team selected by the commissioner of the TEA would work closely with Austin ISD's special education team to ensure it is meeting the needs of students who are referred to be evaluated for disabilities or who receive special education services.

This is the second time this month that the TEA has taken action on a Texas school district. Earlier in March, the TEA overhauled Houston ISD, replacing the superintendent and school board with a board of managers tasked with overseeing the district. That move has drawn serious ire from residents and organizations alike. The TEA cited poor academic results as the reason behind that move.

The TEA's move with Austin ISD would not be a takeover of the school district like what is currently happening in Houston ISD. The trustees and interim superintendent are still in place, and the district has the right to appeal the conservatorship.

"We are focused on our students, and we welcome collaboration with TEA to help us catch up on long-overdue evaluations," Austin ISD said in a statement. "We are united in our focus to ensure that all students receive what they need, when they need it."

State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, a Democrat who represents part of Austin, admitted some faults and needed improvements from the district. But Hinojosa disagreed with the motion and expressed disappointment at the decision, citing her belief that the school district is "moving in the right direction."

"AISD's deficiencies regarding our students in special education are unacceptable. I communicated my concern to the prior board president, the prior superintendent, the current board president, and trustees," Hinojosa said.

"I am dismayed by Commissioner Morath's decision to install a conservatorship in our school district at this time. The TEA has been under federal oversight by the Department of Education for its failings regarding special education since 2018," Hinojosa continued. "I have yet to hear from the Commissioner how or why the TEA is better equipped to address our pressing challenges."

Austin ISD is currently reviewing the 31-page report from TEA and has called a special meeting for 6:45 p.m. on Monday, April 3. The community may sign up to submit recorded comments between 7:45 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday.

Interim Superintendent Matias Segura estimates that the conservators could be in place by “late summer.”

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