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Austin ISD Says It Has Cleared Its Special Ed Evaluation Backlog

A woman helps a young girl put on her shoes in a living room.
Michael Minasi
Andrea Troncoso helps her daughter put on her shoes at their home in North Austin. Her child was one of hundreds who waited almost a year to get a special education evaluation.

Austin ISD says it has gotten through its backlog of special education evaluations.

"Every single parent, we are very proud to say, has been contacted and students are in that progress for being evaluated," Dessynie Edwards, AISD's assistant superintendent for student programs, told KUT Wednesday.

At the end of April, Elizabeth Casas, AISD's chief academic officer, gave the district until July 1 to get through the hundreds of students waiting to be evaluated for special education services.

Earlier this year, KUT reported that 800 students were waiting for an evaluation. An evaluation is needed before a student can get any services, so hundreds of families waited months — and in some cases more than a year — with no support for their children.

Edwards said the district relied heavily on outside contractors to complete the evaluations and will continue to use contractors until the district is fully staffed.

A shortage of evaluators was one reason cases got so backed up. Staff had been quitting in droves, citing a hostile work environment under the previous administration. In May, the district laid off the entire special education staff at central office to reorganize the department. Now, as it re-hires evaluators, Edwards said, the district is trying to create a better work environment and lower caseloads. She said AISD also wants to offer more mentoring and direct support.

"We had a lot of evaluators who were new to the evaluation process and so many of them needed mentors in order to get better acclimated," she said.

Edwards said the district will continue to use contractors until the department is fully staffed, so it doesn't fall behind again.

Andrea Troncoso is one of the parents who waited a year to hear back from the district about an evaluation. Her daughter finally got evaluated in March.

"It was such a relief, and it was a little bit of hope, of finally maybe being able to access some services," she said.

But the evaluator said there was nothing going on with her daughter that would qualify her for special education services. Her daughter's behavior was erratic and her social skills seemed off, so Troncoso took her to a private therapist, who has made a huge difference.

Troncoso said she hopes to have her daughter re-evaluated in the fall once she's back in a classroom full time and her teacher might witness her behaviors.

She said she did notice a change in the process: A few months after her daughter's evaluation, she asked to get her son tested for dysgraphia and the district got it done within a week.

Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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