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Austin ISD hits key milestone to reduce special education evaluation backlog

Free backpacks are provided to students at McCallum High School.
Renee Dominguez
Free backpacks are provided to students at McCallum High School in Austin ISD.

The Austin Independent School District this week met a key requirement outlined in a state-ordered plan to improve its special education services.

The Texas Education Agency's corrective action plan required Austin ISD to complete all overdue special education evaluations for which parental permission was obtained before the 2022-2023 school year by Oct. 31. AISD also needed to complete evaluations for which parental permission was obtained between June 30, 2022, and Dec. 31, 2022. A TEA spokesperson confirmed in an email to KUT that the district had met the deadline for each of the requirements.

The Austin ISD Special Education leadership team also told KUT that 2,164 initial evaluations had been overdue and the district finished the last one at the end of August.

The district’s long-standing backlog of evaluations is one of the primary reasons the TEA announced plans for state oversight in March. An investigation found Austin ISD repeatedly violated the rights of students with disabilities by failing to complete evaluations within the legally required timeframe.

Evaluations are the first formal step in determining whether a student has disabilities and the services they must receive to ensure they have access to a “free appropriate public education,” as guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Initially, the TEA was going to pursue a special education conservatorship. In that situation, a state-appointed person or team would directly manage the Austin ISD special ed department. But the district appealed that proposal. Months later, state education officials outlined an alternative plan that involved a less severe form of intervention. The AISD school board ultimately agreed to this plan in September to avoid an immediate conservatorship.

That meant instead of conservators, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath appointed two monitors last month tasked with making sure Austin ISD is complying with the corrective action plan. It includes a series of requirements and deadlines the school board and district must meet.

In addition to completing overdue evaluations from before the last school year, the order also required Austin ISD to determine what compensatory services students with disabilities were entitled to if their evaluation was delayed between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2022.

The Austin ISD Special Education leadership team said the district met this requirement "for students who are currently enrolled in the district and receiving special education services," but did not confirm whether that group of students had started receiving compensatory services yet.

The next deadline Austin ISD must meet when it comes to overdue evaluations is Dec. 31. By then, the district must complete all evaluations for which parental consent was obtained between Jan. 1, 2023 and June 30, 2023.

If the TEA-appointed monitors or Commissioner Morath ever determine that Austin ISD is failing to comply with the order, the state can institute a conservatorship. However, the district did negotiate a 10-day grace period to address any problems before that would happen.

Becky Fogel is the education reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @beckyfogel.
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