Texas Education Agency Administrative Complaint
This complaint concerns the unlawful practice of thirteen Texas school districts forcing their most vulnerable students out of school through court procedures for truancy. The complainants are students with disabilities who were, or should have been identified as, eligible for special education services. Rather than providing these students with the special education and related services to which they were entitled—services which would allow them to stay in school and access their education—their school districts referred them to court for the Class C misdemeanor of Failure to Attend School. Once in court, the school districts played an active role in forcing students out of their regular education programs, in violation of the students’ rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Texas is punishing children for failing to attend school by forcing them out of school. Many school districts across the state drive this force-out, particularly for students with disabilities. These school districts fail to provide students with necessary special education services and then penalize them when they inevitably struggle in school as a result. When the students subsequently miss school, either because of their disability or out of frustration that their education is inaccessible given the lack of appropriate special education and related services, the school districts then criminalize their behavior by referring them to court for Failure to Attend School (FTAS).
The court process varies among jurisdictions, but in all cases school districts play a crucial role in forcing students out of school. School districts make the initial referrals to the courts. Once a student has been summonsed to court, school district representatives make recommendations to the prosecutor or judge regarding the case outcome. Many courts almost always follow these recommendations, so the school district’s recommendation frequently becomes the court order.
Disability Rights Texas , the National Center for Youth Law , and Texas Appleseed brought this complaint on behalf of seven students and all similarly situated students. The complaint is against the Texas Education Agency and Abilene, Austin, Clear Creek, Conroe, Ector County, Fort Bend, Fort Worth, Galena Park, Galveston, Houston, Pasadena, San Antonio, and Victoria Independent School Districts (“ISDs”). The students named in this complaint represent the many students with disabilities who find themselves funneled into the court system for truancy and then forced out of school.