English Learners Were Hurt The Most When Texas Limited Special Education : NPR Ed Texas has the lowest rate of children in special education in the country. A closer look at the numbers shows that English language learners are missing out the most.
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English Learners Were Hurt The Most When Texas Limited Special Education

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English Learners Were Hurt The Most When Texas Limited Special Education

English Learners Were Hurt The Most When Texas Limited Special Education

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Texas has the lowest rate of children in special education. It turns out the state agency responsible for making sure that kids get the services they're entitled to also limited those services arbitrarily, leaving many without needed help. That hits one group of children especially hard, as Laura Isensee of Houston Public Media found.

LAURA ISENSEE, BYLINE: After school, Angeles Garcia gets her two children settled, having a snack at their apartment in southeast Houston.

ANGELES GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

ISENSEE: Then comes homework, something her 9-year-old son, Angel Vazquez, doesn't like very much. Instead he reads something sweet he's written for her.

ANGEL VAZQUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

ISENSEE: Angel has struggled to learn to read and is behind in school. He has other challenges. He's lost some of his hearing and has a speech delay. In class, he gets distracted a lot and has to sit near the front. And he's still learning English.

GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

ISENSEE: She's worried he'll stay like this, Garcia says, that he won't learn because he needs so much more help than he's getting. She's one of tens of thousands of parents in Texas caught up in the state's de facto cap on special education. And families who don't speak English have faced an even bigger hurdle.

It all started in 2004 when the Texas Education Agency told school districts only 8.5 percent of all children should receive services. The numbers dropped from about 13 percent, the national average, down to that benchmark. And our reporting shows that the numbers dropped even lower for kids like Angel who are learning English. They make up only 7.6 percent of students in special ed. Garcia first asked school officials to evaluate her son for services almost two years ago.

GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

ISENSEE: "What's going to happen to him," she asks. "He's not advancing at all." That's in part because the Houston school district ignored her request even after she gave them medical documents explaining his disabilities. Making it even more difficult, the school only gave Garcia letters in English and not her native Spanish.

DUSTIN RYNDERS: We are meeting parents every day who have stories very similar. And we're fed up with schools not evaluating kids who need services.

ISENSEE: That's Dustin Rynders. He's an attorney with Disability Rights Texas. The advocacy group has taken Garcia's case. He knows immigrant families face many barriers.

RYNDERS: If it's more difficult for them to write letters to the school, if it's more difficult for them to find agencies like me to advocate for their rights, they're more likely to be left out.

ISENSEE: When we asked Houston schools about Angel and why they enroll so few English learners in special ed, they refused to address his case. Since then, Houston's special ed director has resigned. The U.S. Department of Education has opened an investigation. And in Austin, state lawmakers approved a bill to keep this from ever happening again. And Angel is finally making up for lost time.

(LAUGHTER)

ISENSEE: He's playing with his little sister. And he's doing better in school because this spring, he finally got tested for special ed. Now he has new hearing aids, receives speech therapy and is learning how to manage his ADHD. His mom, Angeles Garcia, says the whole thing is bittersweet.

GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

ISENSEE: "Maybe if they had paid attention to what I told them, he would be a little better off. But now we're looking ahead, and the good thing is that now he has help."

GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

ISENSEE: Garcia worries about other immigrant families who still struggle to receive services because they don't know the laws or speak English. For NPR News, I'm Laura Isensee in Houston.

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