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TEA delivers blistering report on HISD’s special education program, recommends state oversight

State investigators accuse HISD of failing its disabled students for at least a decade and all but ignoring previous reports demanding change.
Credit: KHOU
HISD headquarters

HOUSTON — The Texas Education Agency released a scathing report on HISD’s special education program Tuesday following a lengthy investigation by its Special Investigations Unit.

Investigators found HISD has violated special education requirements and “the noncompliance is significant, systemic and widespread.”

The 88-page report cites the “historical failure of the Houston Independent School District to fulfill its obligations to provide appropriate -- and legally required -- specialized services to its students with disabilities.”

State investigators accuse HISD of failing its disabled students for at least a decade and all but ignoring previous reports demanding change. 

“Perhaps more troubling than these historical findings concerns the district’s lack of serious initiative, rather yet success, in attempting to take corrective action to reform its systems,” the report said.

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SIU recommendations

  • SIU is recommending to the Commissioner of Education that a conservator be installed in HISD who will make changes to improve special education services in the district.
  • Appoint an agency monitor to participate in and report to the TEA on the activities of the HISD board of trustees or superintendent.
  • Order HISD to prepare a student achievement improvement plan that addresses problem areas in special education.
  • Order a hearing to be held before the commissioner or the commissioner's designee at which the president of the HISD board of trustees and the district's superintendent shall explain the district's low performance, lack of improvement, and plans for improvement.

HISD response

HISD released the following statement in response to the report:

“We are disappointed with the outcome of the investigation and believe it is factually and legally incorrect. Much of the report is devoted to years-old information from old reports and does not address more current information provided in the district’s response. Further, several of the years in question were years in which TEA itself illegally imposed an 8½ percent limit on the identification of special education students. HISD is analyzing the report in detail and will have a more comprehensive response plan in the future.”

'The state of special education in HISD is grave'

However, the district’s own 2018 report from a committee made up of four school board members, a cross-section of employees and community members found “the state of special education in HISD is grave.”

Investigators accuse HISD leaders of largely ignoring recommendations for improvement over the last decade, including from their own 2018 report. 

They say the district appeared to pay attention only after high-ranking district officials were questioned by TEA investigators in June.

The impact

HISD is the largest district in Texas and the seventh largest in the United States. The district serves more than 200,000 students and nearly 80 percent of them are economically disadvantaged. About 8% of those students -- or 16,923 -- receive special education services.

READ: The full TEA report:

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