Proposed Amendments to the TEA Complaint Process Are a Mixed Bag for Districts 

On September 23, 2022, the Texas Education Agency (“TEA”) issued a notice regarding proposed amendments to the sections of the Texas Administrative Code related to special education complaints filed with the TEA. The proposed rules are currently open for public comment and are the subject of a public hearing on October 6, 2022. The only major change impacting special education due process hearings would clarify that summary proceedings in hearing may only be used when both parties in the hearing agree to use the summary process. This is significant because parties are currently able to file motions for summary judgment – which allows a hearing officer to rule on the legal viability of a claim without the need for a complete hearing. This approach can be productive and cost-effective for school districts, as it permits hearing officers to sift through meritless claims without the need for a full hearing. This is currently permitted in a due process hearing without the consent of the other party, and this change would require consent.

Can Districts Still Find Resolution After a Due Process Hearing Has Been Requested?

School districts and parents across Texas are regularly working together to ensure that the needs of students are met and that the district is providing a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Every child is unique; likewise, every Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is just as distinct. When a disagreement arises and disputes occur, the district and parents have the ability to go through various dispute resolution processes. The Texas Education Agency encourages and supports the resolution of any dispute that arises between the parent and a school district relating to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of or the provision of a FAPE to a student.

Several options exist for resolving disputes at any level or stage. Some of those options include but are not limited to: ARD meetings; meetings or conferences with the student’s teacher, campus administrator, or special education director; mediation through TEA; and filing a complaint or due process hearing through TEA. Districts and parents utilize these formal and informal methods to problem solve and settle disagreements.

But once a parent has formally filed a request for a due process hearing, is there any hope left for resolution or are the parent and district forced to go through with a due process hearing before a hearing officer? The answer is, yes, there is hope for resolution before a due process hearing. In fact, the majority of due process hearing requests are resolved without a hearing.

Sports, Clubs, Competitions, Oh My! Ensuring Equal Opportunity to Extracurriculars for Students with Disabilities 

Bring on the extracurriculars! Educators, families, and students would likely agree – extracurricular activities are a significant part of education. Both the IDEA and Section 504 must provide students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities.  

What does this mean for school districts? A guidance from the Department of Education gives us some insight. First off, school districts should avoid denying students with disabilities the opportunity to participate in or benefit from an aid, benefit, or service because of the student’s disability. Instead, school districts must afford students with disabilities an equal opportunity for participation in extracurricular services and activities.   Remember that Section 504 protects the rights of students with disabilities even if that student is not eligible for services under IDEA.

New Year, New Responsibilities: Tips for Preparing Educators of Students with Disabilities for the 2022-2023 School Year

A new school year brings new students, new teachers, new IEPs, new ARD committees, and new responsibilities for educating students with disabilities. It is critical that special education teachers are properly trained at the start of the school year regarding their responsibilities under the IDEA and the students on their caseloads. These responsibilities, however, do not stop at special education teachers. Administrators must also make sure that general education teachers understand their roles in implementing IEPs. To make this hectic time a little less overwhelming, Thompson & Horton LLP has made a checklist for administrators and case managers to start the 2022-2023 school year off on the right foot and avoid potential legal issues during the year.