Special Ed Compliance
These four tips can help your district to stay in compliance with special ed requirements.
Attaining and maintaining compliance in special education requires Texas public school districts to cultivate a continuous improvement mindset, develop and follow clear operating procedures, and engage in an ongoing review of adherence to extensive expectations. But a recent announcement by the U.S. Department of Education could mean that there will be clearer guidance and fewer changes made in special education requirements in Texas.
The USDE informed the Texas Education Agency in June that it has completed its corrective actions for statewide noncompliance in special education, though it will continue to monitor the state as part of its overall oversight process.
Impact on Districts
As a result of the lengthy review of TEA by the USDE, Texas public school districts face increased scrutiny through ongoing cyclical and/or targeted monitoring processes. These reviews mandate strict adherence to procedures with thorough supporting documentation. Additionally, districts must now update and submit special education operating procedures, evaluate students with suspected dyslexia through IDEA, and provide necessary dyslexia services through special education.
A significant increase in the number of students evaluated and found eligible for special education resulted from the statewide corrective action plan, and this number continues to grow. According to TEA, between the 2016-17 and 2022-23 school years, the percentage of students receiving special education support grew from 8.9% to 12.7%. During the 2022-23 school year, 702,785 students received special education services.
The identification of more students with disabilities impacts services necessary to meet growing caseloads, intensifies the need for clearly documented operating procedures, and increases time spent on official documentation of services. Failure to follow established procedures regarding proper documentation and provision of special education services may lead to parent complaints to TEA, requests for mediation, or filing for due process hearings.
What can districts do to address challenging requirements, ensure special education operating procedures cover necessary areas, and decrease chances of parent complaints or findings of noncompliance?
TEA relies on district documentation when responding to parent complaints and determining compliance with special education requirements. When districts create clear procedures, train all staff, and establish an ongoing review process as part of an overall system of alignment, they can increase adherence to procedures and appropriate planning, provision, and documentation of services for students with disabilities. Here are some guidelines:
1. Establish Clear, Comprehensive, User-Friendly Operating Procedures
Districts that receive federal funds in a specific area must establish operating procedures to address compliance with program requirements. For special education, TEA requires districts to upload these procedures. Three options exist for districts to create their operating procedures. They may use templates available from TEA, develop their own, or purchase a commercial product such as those available to members of TASB Student Solutions.
2. Provide General Special Education Training to All Staff
Districts often provide special education training only to special education teachers and related services providers. Cultivating a continuous improvement mindset requires that administrators, general education teachers, paraprofessionals, and support staff understand special education processes as well. Each staff member assigned special education duties should receive additional specific training related to their individual role and responsibilities.
3. Provide Detailed Training in Ongoing Areas of Concern
TASB Student Solutions analyzed Texas due process hearing data from the past seven years and identified the topics consistently litigated. These align with TEA’s focus in the cyclical review process and include Free Appropriate Public Education, Individualized Education Program, Least Restrictive Environment, Procedural Safeguards; Child Find, parent participation, evaluation/reevaluation, behavior, and placement. Districts will benefit from providing detailed training in each of these areas. Increased knowledge can improve adherence to expectations.
4. Establish a Process to Systematically Review Documentation
Texas Administrative Code § 89.1075 requires districts to maintain an eligibility folder, in addition to the cumulative folder, for each child receiving special education services, and delineates necessary components. TEA reviews a selection of these folders as part of their monitoring processes. Establishing a systematic, regularly scheduled review of folders can help districts identify and address internal areas of concern.
Meeting the extensive demands surrounding special education requires a continuous improvement mindset supported by clear procedures and adherence to expectations. Following these four recommendations can increase staff understanding and knowledge of special education processes, help districts improve compliance with special education requirements, avoid potential time-consuming and costly parent complaints, and ultimately allow staff more time to focus on student success. The experienced staff at TASB Student Solutions can answer questions and assist districts in all these areas.
This article was first published in the Sept/Oct 2023 issue of Texas Lone Star.