Remarks to HISD School Board on Under-Identification of Special Education Students

Members of the Board:

I’m here tonight to address you on behalf of disabled children in Houston ISD. I am hoping you all had the opportunity to read Brian Rosenthal’s "Denied" series in the Houston Chronicle.

It was incredibly important work that revealed to the public what people who work in schools have known to be true: that the state has encouraged, if not mandated, school districts to under identify students with disabilities.

The public response by HISD Administration has been disheartening, if not offensive, to families with special needs children. Sowmya Kumar, Assistant Superintendent for Special Education Services, has denied that any problem with under identification exists. Yet all of her theories about why enrollment is so low in the district have been refuted by data presented in Chronicle reporting. I don’t know how Ms. Kumar could make the claims she has made when school psychologists in this district commonly serve 5, 6, 7 or 8 campuses. Resources are scarce and a student making it through the eligibility process in a quick and streamlined fashion is unheard of.

Houston Chronicle Follow Up Report

Houston Chronicle Follow Up Report

This is not to say that good things aren’t happening in HISD Special Education. They are, but for Ms. Kumar to be so defensive of a policy that has done so much damage to families & students was painful. A more thoughtful response could have built a bridge to disenfranchised families and encouraged her staff to think about what day to day practices contribute to under-identification.

The disappointment continued when Mr. Carranza, supposedly an outsider, declined to stand with families and call the situation as it is, even when fellow superintendents from around the state were mustering the courage to do just that, to call for the TEA to end its practice of encouraging districts to limit special education enrollment—a practice which only exists in Texas. Mr. Carranza’s hesitation to do so spoke volumes to families.

So I’m here to ask you, our trustees, to do the right thing. The problem is complex and solutions aren’t easy or cheap. But you could start by making a statement as a body about how this situation is wrong and begin investigating what district policies constructed to such a low identification rate. I’m asking you to take affirmative action to show families that their children and their needs are important. The administration certainly hasn’t given us any indication they do.