Austin ISD Under Conservatorship: What Does That Mean?

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With the recent news about the Texas Education Agency (TEA) placing Austin ISD (AISD) under conservatorship due to their ongoing noncompliance with special education law, we have received many questions from parents and advocates. Here are some answers to some of the most common things being asked.

What caused TEA to put AISD under conservatorship?

  • Numerous substantiated complaints from parents over several years about long delays in special education evaluations
  • AISD’s failure to complete corrective actions issued by TEA to address the systemic failures
  • More than two years of TEA trying to work with AISD to remedy the problems
  • After all above measures, no progress was made. In fact, the problem is worse.

What has DRTx done to address the AISD evaluation delays?

  • DRTx filed the initial complaint on behalf of two students that brought this problem to light in the fall of 2020.
  • DRTx filed a federal lawsuit against AISD in March 2021 due to the continued violations of the timelines for evaluations.
  • DRTx has continued to file additional complaints on behalf of students whose evaluations have been delayed.
  • DRTx has sent two letters to TEA urging an investigation of AISD, as well as concrete action to address the broken evaluation system.

What will a conservatorship look like at AISD?

A conservator’s role is to serve as a manager of a school district to ensure the school board and superintendent are taking necessary steps to resolve problems. According to a TEA Investigative Report on AISD released March 31, 2023, Commissioner Mike Morath will appoint a Management Team who will work with AISD to identify the issues that led to non-compliance and report to the agency on the development and implementation of a plan to address the issue.

How is this different from what happened with Houston ISD?

Houston ISD (HISD) is under a total takeover of all areas, not just special education. At HISD, the TEA Commissioner will suspend the powers of the superintendent and elected trustees by June 1 and appoint a new superintendent and nine-member board of managers to govern the district for an undetermined amount of years.

For now, the Austin ISD interim superintendent and board will stay in place, and they have expressed an intent to work with TEA.

Do other districts have the same backlog problem with evaluations?

DRTx is seeing an issue with delayed special education evaluations in other districts. AISD’s problem in this area appears to be one of the most significant in Texas in both the number of delayed evaluations and the longstanding nature of the problem.

Are evaluation delays the only problem with special ed in AISD?

The testing backlog is not the only problem – there are many more with AISD and other districts. As to evaluations, many parents have reported that the evaluations that have been done are not complete. Additionally, AISD must give all impacted students compensatory education. We’ve also seen statewide a dramatic increase in the number of illegal and harmful restraints of students with disabilities with educators not abiding by positive behavioral supports that are set up in a student’s education plan that is required by law.

Wasn’t TEA the group that set the illegal 8.5 percent cap on special ed enrollment in Texas public schools? Are they really the best group to be in charge of AISD for this?

While TEA is under corrective action relating to the 8.5% cap, TEA is still the agency responsible for ensuring that students with disabilities receive a free appropriate public education, which necessarily starts with an evaluation. While DRTx wishes that TEA had acted earlier, we are pleased that this concrete step is happening now. DRTx will be monitoring TEA and AISD for progress.