Austin ISD approves TEA plan for state oversight of district's special education program

By a vote of eight to one, the Austin ISD Board of Trustees approved a plan to establish state oversight of the district’s struggling special education program—avoiding an all-out takeover. 

"I truly believe that this is our way through," said District 1 Trustee Candace Hunter.

The board held a special meeting Tuesday night, where it voted in favor of the "alternative plan" proposed by the Texas Education Agency. 

"We're deciding between 2 options tonight - accepting TEA sanctions by force or by choice," said District 5 Trustee Lynn Boswell. 

Under the agreement, which avoids a full-on state conservatorship, the TEA will provide additional monitoring of special education, which has been dogged by a troubling district-wide backlog of initial evaluations. 

"It’s important to note that we are in this position because the district has failed students," said Boswell. 

"Those errors should be owned by everyone involved, and i think that includes the agency," said District 6 Trustee Andrew Gonzales.

In order to correct those failures, TEA monitors will make recommendations and report back to the state, and Lone Star Governance coaches will be tasked with improving student outcomes. The plan also requires the school board to focus half of its meetings on discussing those outcomes. 

"There is a requirement for professional development, and it is a requirement for all campus-based staff," said AISD Interim Superintendent Matias Segura. 

Most parents and teachers who spoke out at the meeting, did so in opposition to the TEA plan. 

"I don't think we should be part of TEA or TEA be part of us," said Elizabeth Coughlin, an Austin ISD teacher who opposes the TEA plan. 

"I think the proposal they have submitted is the best of two not great options," said AISD special ed employee Lindsay Ramirez, who supports the plan. 

Austin ISD points out that the initial backlog of special ed evaluations is getting smaller.