AISD Special Education Lawsuit Moves Forward

Federal district judge denies Austin ISD's motion to dismiss suit

AISD Special Education Lawsuit Moves Forward

A federal district judge last week denied Austin ISD's motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed on behalf of students with disabilities over the district's failure to evaluate students in need of special education services in a timely manner. The case was filed in April by Disability Rights Texas, the state's federally recognized advocacy agency for people with disabilities, and five elementary­-age plaintiffs whose overdue evaluations were part of a huge backlog that piled up at AISD's struggling special education division, beginning in the 2018-19 school year. Federal and state law establishes timelines for these evaluations (and regular reevaluations) so that students with special needs can get the services and support to which they are entitled under the federal Individuals With Disabil­i­ties Education Act, and not fall further behind their classmates.

The massive backlog, which DRTx says delayed and thus denied appropriate services to at least 2,400 AISD students, began to accumulate after evaluators began to resign amid complaints about workload, low compensation, and toxic professional environments. That trend only worsened as staff morale declined further during the pandemic. In May, AISD Chief Academic Officer Elizabeth Casas said the district had 900 evaluations in its backlog – twice the number it had previously reported. (The DRTx number, which is nearly double that, includes both initial evaluations and reevaluations.)

After the Chronicle and other news outlets reported on AISD's special-ed dysfunction, to get back on track, the district contracted with outside evaluators, hired a new special education director, and asked its Central Office special education staff to reapply for their positions. In July, the district said the backlog had been cleared and its special education reorganization was "90% complete." It vowed to enter the 2021-22 school year with no backlog. Therefore, AISD argued, the lawsuit is now moot, and any remaining issues can be resolved with the district's existing administrative process.

But U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that DRTx's claims of systemic failures in AISD special education mean such in-house remedies may be futile. Additionally, Yeakel wrote, even if the backlog has been cleared, "Plaintiffs identify other IDEA violations that preclude mootness, including unfinished evaluations, outstanding reevaluations, and unprescribed compensatory education."

What does DRTx want? The group seeks acknowledgment from AISD that their policies have violated the law and a guarantee to change them, along with attorney's fees. "We are pleased that the court sees the need for this case to move forward," said Dustin Rynders, supervising attorney at DRTx. "It's time to stop these students from being robbed of their right to these services and in the long run, of their chance to have a successful future."

Got something to say on the subject? Send a letter to the editor.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Austin Independent School District
AISD Weighs Schedule Change to Fix Budget Woes
AISD Weighs Schedule Change to Fix Budget Woes
Proposal would cut planning time for teachers in half

Morgan O’Hanlon, Jan. 28, 2022

AISD Tells Parents, Teachers: Keep Calm and Omicr-On
AISD Tells Parents, Teachers: Keep Calm and Omicr-On
Amidst classroom outbreaks, in-person learning continues

Morgan O’Hanlon, Jan. 14, 2022

More by Morgan O’Hanlon
Anthony Mays Takes Over AISD as Supe Search Starts
Anthony Mays Takes Over AISD as Supe Search Starts
New interim steps in after Elizalde’s abrupt departure

June 24, 2022

Former <i>Statesman</i> Reporter Announces Bid for AISD Board
Former Statesman Reporter Announces Bid for AISD Board
Roxanne Evans would replace LaTisha Anderson on the board

June 10, 2022


Austin Independent School District, Austin ISD special education lawsuit, Disability Rights Texas, Elizabeth Casas, Lee Yeakel, Dustin Rynders

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle