AISD Board of Trustees discusses possible TEA conservatorship of special ed programs

The AISD Board of Trustees heard from members of the community Monday night regarding the Texas Education Agency’s intention to put special education programs under a conservatorship. 

The TEA released a final investigative report on Friday in which it concluded the AISD had "systemic issues" within special education.

"TEA’s final investigative report sheds light on the systemic issues found within Austin ISD’s Special Education Department and the district’s shortcomings in identifying and providing services for students with disabilities. The lack of support for these students has significantly hampered their ability to achieve academic success and negatively impacted their school experience," a spokesperson said in a statement shared with FOX 7. 

"TEA believes that all students, when properly supported, can learn at high levels. The Agency has developed a rigorous plan for AISD to implement so it can return to state and federal compliance and begin appropriately serving students in need of special education services as quickly as possible."

Ahead of Monday night’s meeting at AISD headquarters, members of Education Austin held a press conference to push back on TEA’s plans.

"It feels like steps have been jumped and skipped to the conservatorship before it is necessarily needed without giving the district a chance to finish fixing this on their own," said Eric Ramos, a special education teacher.

Roughly 45 minutes of pre-recorded public comment was played during Monday night’s meeting. Many commenters acknowledged delays within the special education department but were wary of a TEA conservatorship. 

"My fear is that an outside agency that’s not my elected school board who I do trust would not have my student’s best interests in mind," said one commenter, a mother of a special education student.

Some of the recent work AISD has done includes creating a centralized database to track evaluations and authorizing the superintendent to put more money into hiring contractors to do evaluations.

"We have the same goal that TEA has, which is to ensure all of our students are getting the services they need, and so if there is an organization, whether it's TEA or somebody else that really understands the need and is willing to support our staff and our families and our students in meeting that need, then we're glad to be working with them," said Board President Arati Singh in an interview with FOX 7. 

Singh noted that the backlog within special education evaluations specifically was exacerbated by a number of factors, including the pandemic and staffing shortages.

"This did not happen overnight," she said.

Singh said there are currently about 50 vacancies among special education evaluators.

The district has until April 17 to request an informal review by TEA. If the district is unsatisfied with the proposed action by the TEA, AISD may file an administrative appeal and request a hearing before The State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH).