When it comes to special education, Texas isn’t at the head of the class. A recent U.S. Department of Education report indicates the state repeatedly failed to meet its responsibilities. For moms and dads trying to navigate the special education system, it’s another frustration and concern. What does the state’s shortcomings mean for their child? How can parents ensure their children get the services they need and deserve? For answers to those questions and others, we turned to Charlotte Dudley, a Dallas-based special education advocate and consultant.
DFWChild: Can you shed some more light on the state of special education in Texas?
Charlotte Dudley: Texas has “needed assistance” for far longer than just this report. Looking at the Department of Education website, you can see that Texas ranked as “needs assistance” since at least 2016 and for each year since.
In 2017, an investigation showed children were being denied special education because of an imposed “cap” created by the Texas Education Agency. The federal government imposed corrective actions that had still not been met as of September 2021. Because of that, the federal government has reduced funding for special education in Texas through what’s known as the IDEA section 611 grant, by more than $33 million.
DFWChild: What should parents take away from the Department of Education report?
CD: Texas is struggling to meet the compliance standards provided by the federal government. Texas as a whole has been in a position of reacting instead of being able to be proactive. Not every district is the same, of course. Some may be proactive and meet compliance while others do not. You can see how your district is doing on the TEA website.
DFWChild: Can you share your top tips for families to ensure their students are getting the best education, services and supports?
CD: It’s important to be diligent in advocating for your child and their needs. Be the expert on your child.
Here’s what I advise:
- Trust your gut. If you feel something is wrong, find answers. Work with your child so you can see how they are doing.
- If you feel lost or overwhelmed, bring in help—other parents, professionals working with your child or a professional advocate.
- Educate yourself on your rights and your children’s rights. Your child is entitled to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). If you don’t agree with the school’s determination in their evaluation, or their decision not to evaluate, request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) at public expense and receive a second opinion.
- Look for updates and changes in legislation, or hire someone who does, and encourage your school district to make those changes.
- Check out how your district is doing compared to others in the state. Being aware can be helpful.
- Always make requests in writing for your own records and to make your requests official. It will help you and the district to adhere to the legislated timelines.
DFWChild: In what kinds of circumstances do you recommend a private or charter special needs school, versus a public school district?
CD: It is important to understand that private schools and charter schools that do not receive federal funds under IDEA are not required to follow IDEA regulations. Your “rights” as a parent and student are not defined by this law, so they are less likely to meet the “standards” of special education.
For those private schools and charter schools that do receive federal funding, often, they do not have the same depth and breadth of resources to meet the various needs of students with special needs. They are also semi-autonomous, and school choice goes both ways.
I recommend private, “special needs focused” schools when a need cannot be met within the special education setting of a public school. Severe behavioral needs as well as students with dyslexia who did not respond to standard protocols are two needs that immediately come to mind. Parents can choose to place independently, or if they have tried working with their district and are still not getting their child’s needs met, they could pursue private placement at public expense. This means a child is privately placed, and the school district pays for it. Private and specialized schools are often cost prohibitive for parents.
If a parent is looking at a special need focused school, do your research. Make sure the school will be able to meet your child’s needs and that you see progress and growth. Choosing a private school isn’t always a solution and should be done with care.
DFWChild: Can you share more about what you do and who might benefit from working with a consultant?
CD: As a special education consultant, I partner with parents and the school district to assist in creating a plan for individual students. I help to educate the parents as to what is available and explain what they do not know or understand.
Many times, I am brought in by parents who are overwhelmed, unsure, angry or confused. They are seeking support so that they can better advocate and support their child. There are many personalities with advocates and different ones will fit better with different families.
My goal is help facilitate a collaborative environment that will foster a continuing “working relationship” between all parties. My philosophy is that long after I am gone, a family will continue to work with the school and district for their child with special needs as well as other siblings within their family. Destroying that relationship is never beneficial.
Parents utilize my services both at the forefront, by their side each step and/or behind the scenes to advise as they proceed. I review paperwork, advise, collaborate with parents and districts, work on goal development, educate, share resources and much more. My services are individualized based on the client’s needs as well as the people who support them.
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