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EduLege Tracker 7-26-18

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EduLege Update Volume VI, Number 41
July 26, 2018
By Andy Welch
A Service of the Texas School Public Relations Association

Looking for help…

The Texas Education Agency is looking for help in overhauling its Special Education programs following a report from the U.S. Department of Education that concluded that the state had previously denied those services to thousands of students with disabilities.

TEA has more than $20 million in grants that it needs help in administering, with applicants limited to Texas universities and the state’s 20 Education Service Centers. 

Each of the year-long grants, across 12 major categories, will be funded through discretionary federal funds provided to states for Special Education services, implemented either in the 2018-2019 or the 2019-2020 academic years.  

Several of the grants will go to organizations that can help Texas schools educate some of the most vulnerable students with special needs, including those with cognitive disabilities; those who are deaf or blind; those with autism and those who are in small school districts with limited resources. Another grant is intended to help school districts train staff to evaluate which students are in need of federally funded Special Education services. 

The federal government concluded that the state was effectively forcing local school districts to keep their Special Education enrollment low, causing Texas to provide those services to a small percentage of students, when compared to other states.

TEA tried—and failed—to address some of these issues last year when it awarded a contract to overhaul the state’s Special Education services to a relatively new private company without allowing others to bid on the project. When parents of students with disabilities argued the contract was unfairly bid and would not help their students, TEA terminated it, losing $2.2 million in federal funding.

He ‘aced’ it…

It’s certainly not unheard of for a student to ace a state assessment test—but it’s a lot more impressive when that students must overcome a learning disability, such as autism.

And that’s the case for Cade Elias of Frisco, who aced his 7th grade Math test on the spring administration of the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness.  Cade got every single Math question correct.

Frisco said more than 4,600 7th grade students took the math portion of the STAAR test this spring. Of that number, only five percent—or 235 students—earned a perfect store. 

“For someone like this child who started as non-verbal who went all the way up to acing the STAAR test in 7th grade–gives hope and lets people know our children can move along that spectrum and can start with low-functioning and go up to higher-functioning. It takes a lot of education, a lot of therapy, a lot of hard work on their part, but it’s possible,” said Nagla Moussa, board member of the National Autism Association of North Texas.

Cade’s mother credits the SAIL program at Frisco—Social and Interpersonal Learning—with helping him develop. 

Cade will take pre-AP Math in 8th grade, and said he hopes to begin writing computer code.

More arrests…

The number of Texas students who have been arrested on charges of making terroristic threats and firearms violations has soared after school shootings earlier this year in Florida and Texas, according to a new study by four social advocacy groups.

The study also found that black students are disproportionately referred to law enforcement, when compared with other racial and ethnic groups.

In 2016, there were no referrals by Texas school districts for students threatening to exhibit a firearm. In 2017 there were five, and through May of this year there have been 170 referrals. This year, from January through May, there were at least 1,400 total referrals for the offenses of threatening to exhibit a firearm or making a terroristic threat, the study found.

As a remedy, the report “Collateral Consequences” suggests that Texas schools take a more research-based approach to assessing safety concerns, rather than furthering a so-called school-to-prison pipeline with zero-tolerance policies.

The report was authored by Texas Appleseed; Disability Rights Texas; Children’s Defense Fund-Texas and the Earl Carl Institute for Legal and Social Policy, and is based on data that Texas Appleseed obtained from the Texas Juvenile Justice Department for referral for terroristic threats or exhibition, use or threat of exhibition or use of firearms for 2016, 2017 and January through May of 2018.

“Students are being unnecessarily arrested and funneled into the juvenile justice system, causing lifelong damages to young people, while schools fail to distinguish between actual safety threats and ordinary child behavior,” the report says.

Among the findings:

  • Students age 13 to 14 had the most referrals for both offenses.
  • Black students represent 24 percent of referrals for terroristic threat and 31 percent of referrals for exhibition of firearms, but comprise 13 percent of the student population.
  • Houston—the state’s largest school district—had the largest number of referrals.

“We must ask ourselves why black children are overrepresented in referrals given that past school shooters have often been white males,” said Morgan Owens, an Earl Carl Institute staff member.

The study also found that several children with disabilities were arrested for behavior or comments that were seen by the school as threatening, but which could have been directly related to their disability. Some disabled students were charged with felony offenses.

“We have seen an influx in cases where students with disabilities are being referred to law enforcement more frequently for things that are clearly connected to their disability,” said Shiloh Carter, an attorney for Disability Rights Texas.

Ms. Carter said students with disabilities often have anger episodes that are irrational, impromptu and emotional, and say things they don’t mean.

“Now we’re seeing a zero-tolerance policy and very young children who are facing felony charges,” Ms. Carter said. “There needs to be a step-by-step process and evidence-based system for addressing the seriousness of a threat and how to respond more appropriately.”

Click here to read the full report “Collateral Consequences."

Planting the flag…

Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick vows that any so-called “red flag” gun control proposal will be dead on arrival in the 2019 legislative session—if he is re-elected as presiding officer of the State Senate in November.

More and more states have adopted laws that allow courts to order the seizure or surrender of guns from people who are deemed dangerous by a judge. And after the fatal shooting at Santa Fe High School in May, Governor Greg Abbott released a school safety plan that requested that the Legislature consider red flag laws.

But Lieutenant Governor Patrick has made it clear that such proposals won’t make it far in the State Senate.

"I have never supported these policies, nor has the majority of the Texas Senate," Lieutenant Governor Patrick said. 

After the topic drew opposition from conservative and gun rights groups and was knocked in the Texas Republican Party’s platform, Governor Abbott tweeted that his school safety plan wasn't specifically advocating red flags laws—“only that it is something the legislature can consider.”

Democrat Mike Collier of Houston is challenging Lieutenant Governor Patrick on the November General Election ballot.

Stepping aside…

Outgoing Katy superintendent Lance Hindt, who recently announced his plans to resign amid controversy over decades-old bullying allegation, won’t be sitting with the district’s board of trustees for upcoming meetings.

Instead, Deputy Superintendent Ken Gregorski will preside over future board meetings “until further notice,” district officials say. They said Superintendent Hindt, who will remain in the district’s top job until the end of the calendar year, will focus on special large-scale projects including modifying Katy’s attendance boundaries and the rollout of a strategic design plan.

“In the past, other Katy ISD superintendents have adopted this practice as a way to lay the groundwork for the smooth transition of a new superintendent,” Katy spokeswoman Maria DiPetta said.

The presence of a superintendent at board meetings is not required by the Texas Education Code or Katy school district policy.

The Katy school board agreed in May to pay Superintendent Hindt $750,000—an amount equal to two years of his base pay—on his last day of work. The board also voted to help pay for a possible defamation lawsuit arising from the public allegations that were lodged against him.

Shove and a threat. Allegedly…

A Maryland school board chair is facing an assault charge after allegedly shoving and threatening a fellow board member following a tense meeting.

Segun C. Eubanks, who has led the Prince George’s County School Board since 2013, is accused of threatening his colleague Edward Burroughs III, who filed a complaint.

Mr. Burroughs alleges that Mr. Eubanks pinned him against a bookcase in a board room that was out of public view, wagged his finger “in and on” his face and yelled, “I will f--- you up,” several times.

The alleged confrontation came after a contentious meeting at which the school board agreed to pay nearly $800,000 for a contract buyout of embattled Chief Executive Kevin Maxwell, who is leaving the school system after a series of scandals during his five years at the helm.

Down on the border…

The Rio Grande City school board has approved a request by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency to survey land that the district owns as a right-of-way for President Donald Trump’s border wall to separate the United States and Mexico.

The district property abuts the Rio Grande.

“It didn’t affect anything having to do with the school,” Board president Daniel Garcia said. “It was more toward land that we don’t even use that’s by the river.”

All good things must end…

A historic 33-year run has come to an end, as Houston Lamar High School football coach Tom Nolen has decided to retire.

Coach Nolen retires with 308 wins recorded by the University Interscholastic League, which ranks 11th all-time in the state. His 365 career wins is good for 3rd place among all active coaches in Texas high school football.

Consistency was the hallmark for Lamar High under Coach Nolen. The program had 31 playoff appearances and 20 district titles during his tenure. He leaves with eight consecutive district championships.

But more important than the records are the relationships that Coach Nolen developed with his players.

“The kids always came first,” Lamar principal James McSwain said. “He cared so much about each and every one of them. He was a father figure to many of them, an advocate a lot of times. He truly had special relationships with every player who came through the program.”

Just ask…

Approximately 6,000 square feet of used artificial turf that was being stored at the Astrodome in Houston is now covering the grounds around a previously-barren Pasadena elementary school.

Principal Mike Van Loenen spotted the rolls of used turf in a video profiling the future of the famed Dome, and thought that it would be perfect groundcover for an area of his campus that is shaded by two large trees.

So, he asked, and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett quickly agreed. Crews have already installed the turf.

Coming up…

  • A panel of experts has told a legislative committee that blaming school shootings on mental health issues and violent video games oversimplifies the issue.
  • More and more Texas families are choosing not to vaccinate their school-age children.
  • After a grading glitch incorrectly ranked a high school valedictorian as No. 2, Austin school officials are planning to audit the class rankings at all of the district’s 13 high schools.

Those stories—and more—in the Thursday, August 2, edition of EduLege.


EduLege is provided by the Texas School Public Relations Association as a service to its members.

Long-time TSPRA member Andy Welch, the retired Communication Director for the Austin School District, compiles and writes EduLege.  Questions or comments may be directed to him at andywelch1@gmail.com.

For more updates on education news from throughout the state, visit the TSPRA website.