By: Julia Deng
ODESSA - The Ector County Independent School District has allegedly been violating federal law by funneling disabled students out of public schools and abusing truancy laws, according to an administrative complaint filed Wednesday against 13 Texas school districts and the Texas Education Agency.
ECISD and TEA officials denied receiving formal, signed copies of the complaint.
The complaint, lodged by three non-profit organizations - Disability Rights Texas, the National Center for Youth Law and Texas Appleseed - also accuses the TEA of "failing to ensure that districts are complying with state and federal law" to properly support disabled students and promote regular attendance and appropriate education.
Students statewide are being "pushed out" of public schools in a variety of ways, the complaint said, including "being forced into GED programs, alternative schools and being coerced into mandatory homeschooling." Seven specific students with conditions ranging from ADHD to bipolar disorder are listed in the complaint as victims of the Texas truancy system. One allegedly faced two truancy charges after repeatedly being marked absent while attending Special Education.
"This is happening to hundreds of other students statewide," said Dustin Rynders, an attorney with Disability Rights Texas. "We are filing this complaint on behalf of all students with any kind of mental or physical disability."
He said Texas truancy laws - under which minors can be criminally charged as adults - are the "toughest in the nation" and create a system that "[criminalizes] children for minor misbehavior."
TEA data compiled from 2010 through 2013 shows 6,423 Texas students charged with truancy withdrew from public schools and later failed GED tests, according to Rynders. 1,247 - nearly 20 percent - were listed as students with disabilities.
"A GED program is almost never going to be successful for a student with disabilities," said Rynders. "Those 1,247 students all had their rights violated. We see these kids all the time who have missed more school to go to court than they did for the underlying absences that led them there in the first place."
Hefty fines and weekday court appearances also contributed to the "counterproductive" nature of truancy charges, he said.
TEA figures also revealed a "grossly disproportionate number of students" being court ordered to drop out of ECISD, compared to other districts named in the complaint, according to Rynders. Between 2010 and 2013, 101 students - 85 in general education programs and 16 in Special Education - were forced to withdraw from ECISD schools under truancy laws.
"And yet Austin [ISD, which has about twice as many students enrolled] only had 37 students court ordered [to drop] out," Rynders told NewsWest 9.
ECISD officials declined to comment in a televised interview. District spokesperson Mike Adkins responded with the following statement:
"We have been told a complaint has been filed with the Texas Education Agency. As of now, we have not received any notice from TEA of the complaint or of any pending investigation. If and when we do, we will cooperate completely and provide whatever information may be requested."
Complaints can be filed with the TEA by individuals or organizations. More information can be found at the following link: http://tea.texas.gov/About_TEA/Contact_Us/Complaints/Complaints/