Denial of Special Education Services: A National Problem

A recent news story broke regarding Texas’ far reaching denial of special education eligibility, supports and services for thousands of students due to an unwritten, and arbitrary ‘8.5 percent rule.’ The Chronicle reported that “unelected state officials had quietly devised a system that kept thousands of disabled kids out of special education […] Teachers and administrators from across the state told the Chronicle they have delayed or denied special education to disabled students in order to stay below the 8.5 percent benchmark.” This arbitrary rule led to a 32 percent drop in special education enrollment across the state of Texas.

This story has lead the news cycle regarding special education services, but this epidemic is far from an isolated issue – Denial of special education is a national problem that occurs across the United States. Across the nation, students are being denied special education services and promoted from grade to grade and ‘gifted’ grades to inflate school and district statistics.

More and more students are falling through the cracks in our education system without the support to exit their schooling prepared to enter the real adult world.

A tip we often tell parents is that it is rare to find a “lazy” elementary school student. If you find that your K-6 grade student is receiving anything less than A’s and B’s in their classes, it is very likely that there is something more going on than what a teacher may just call a “lazy” student, or one who just “lacks effort”.

Often we find report cards that lay out hints of a student who requires additional support – teacher notes indicating that the student “lacks effort,” “doesn’t apply themselves,” “fails to or rarely completes work,” “is unfocused,” etc. While these statements may be true, and the full picture for a middle school or high school student, rarely is this the case for a five to twelve-year-old. Students of this age group generally do want to do well in school but do not know who to explain that they need assistance, or even know that they do.

Special education supports and services are not just provided for students with what some may call ‘obvious disabling conditions’ or special needs such as a child living with autism, down syndrome, conditions that students are diagnoses with. Often students suffering from sensory regulation or processing disorders, attention deficit disorders, auditory or visual processing disorders, etc. will go ‘undiagnosed’ or unknown for years when the school or district refuses to train staff to appropriately identify the needs of these students.

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