Two Texas School Districts Accused of Violating Federal Education and Civil Rights Laws
Students with Disabilities and Students of Color Pushed Out of School
Two Texas school districts are discriminating against students with disabilities and students of color by relying on truancy court referrals and creating hostile educational environments that push students out of school, according to complaints filed today with the U.S. Department of Justice and Texas Education Agency. Texas Appleseed, Disability Rights Texas, National Center for Youth Law, and Texas Civil Rights Project filed the complaints against Bonham (BISD) and Corpus Christi (CCISD) Independent School Districts with the DOJ and TEA, respectively.
Students with school absences that are caused by their disabilities deserve supportive, informed, and compassionate interventions to help them engage in and attend school. Unfortunately, without ever making a good-faith effort to meet students’ needs, BISD and CCISD are instead referring children to truancy court, where they often are ordered to drop out of school and attend General Educational Development (GED) programs or other school alternatives that deprive them of the learning opportunities to which they are entitled under federal law.
The complaint to the DOJ is filed on behalf of two complainants and all similarly situated students in BISD. BISD intentionally discriminates against Black students and students with disabilities by perpetuating a hostile environment on the basis of race and disability, in violation of the U.S. Constitution and federal civil rights laws.
For students with disabilities, BISD perpetuates a hostile educational environment by refusing to provide accommodations and modifications necessary for them to access education. Despite one complainant’s Individualized Education Program, the identification of his needs, and requests for services and accommodations, BISD failed to make even minimal accommodations for disability-related needs. Instead, BISD pushes out students with disabilities through the truancy process.
“Our client with disabilities was entitled to reasonable accommodations, but he was incarcerated three times in 12 months due to the school’s failure to properly accommodate him which caused him to break his terms of probation,” said Olivia Lee, Disability Rights Texas attorney. “One of those three times was when the truancy court ordered him to drop out of school, an order that directly conflicted with his probation term to graduate.”
“I feel every child deserves a quality education despite their disabilities. My grandson was judged unfairly. He struggled with his disabilities and the school knew about it, but did nothing to assist him," said one complainant’s grandmother. "He was targeted from an early age at school, starting at 12 years old. He lost his childhood because of the school and the court system. I don’t want this to happen to other children.”
Between the schools not abiding by federal law and conflicting orders from different courts, students with disabilities in BISD are facing unprecedented discrimination.
Additionally, BISD’s deliberate indifference to racial harassment creates an unsafe environment for its Black students. Racial slurs that were said to one complainant and other Black students, such as the n-word, “cotton picker,” and “black monkey,” were not unequivocally rebuked by school administrators who heard them. BISD’s inaction has allowed this inexcusable behavior to continue, creating a discriminatory, unsafe, hostile environment for its Black students, which is compounded by racial targeting by the district’s school resource officer (SRO).
“Students of color deserve safe, supportive educational environments free from racial harassment and targeting by peers and school staff,” said Renuka Rege, Policy Advisor for Texas Appleseed’s Education Justice Project. “Unfortunately, BISD has created the opposite, pushing students of color out of school through pervasive racial slurs by peers and indifference from school staff, and persistent racial targeting by the SRO that results in disciplinary alternative school placement and arrest.”
“I hope for awareness, change, and inclusivity,” said Sadie Edwards, the mother of one complainant. “I know we can’t make change overnight, but maybe this complaint will help others step out and say that we are tired of discrimination and we don’t want it to happen anymore. I hope that by the time my grandson is old enough to go to school, he doesn’t have to deal with the same thing."
We urge the DOJ to investigate the unlawful practices, processes, and hostile environment to which students in BISD have been subjected and to protect students from further violations.
The complaint to TEA is filed on behalf of students with disabilities in CCISD who are pushed out of school and into truancy court by the district. Through its overuse of truancy court referrals, CCISD discriminates against students with disabilities and ultimately removes them from classroom instruction, violating their right to a free and appropriate public education. During the 2021-2022 school year, CCISD referred 3% of its student enrollment to truancy court, and 13% of those referred had special education needs. This referral rate is significantly higher than other districts in Corpus Christi, such as West Oso and Flour Buff ISDs, which referred 0.8% and 1%, respectively, of their students to truancy court during the same school year.
Not only does the district originate a disproportionately high number of truancy cases in the state and county, but it consistently advises the court to order students to drop out of school and attend a GED program or other form of alternative schooling and disregards students’ or parents’ requests that they be allowed to remain in school. Court-mandated dropout deprives students of access to the general education curriculum, mental health support, and learning accommodations, and ultimately denies them opportunities for any meaningful education. TEA should investigate this systemic practice and issue remedial measures in CCISD to ensure students with disabilities are provided with the necessary education services required by law.
“Both districts are using truancy court as a means of pushing students out of school instead of considering and trying to help with the struggles our clients face inside and outside of the classroom,” said Dustin Rynders, Legal Director, Texas Civil Rights Project. “These students are not missing class because they want to, but because their health requires them to do so. Students deserve to have support and understanding from school officials; instead, CCISD and BISD serve them with truancy notices. We filed these complaints because no student should be at risk of having their education taken away from them by the hands of the school district.”
"Students deserve support and respect, particularly from administrators and staff, as they navigate challenges at school," said Hannah Benton Eidsath, Senior Director, Justice & Equity, at the National Center for Youth Law. "No child should have to endure racial abuse or be pushed out of school due to their disability. These school districts not only showed an appalling lack of regard for students' rights, but an equally heartbreaking lack of respect for students' humanity."
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About Texas Appleseed
As one of the most trusted resources for data-driven policy analysis and solutions, Texas Appleseed advocates at the state and local level for fair, just, and equitable laws. Our work has shaped hundreds of laws and positively affected millions of Texans by breaking down barriers through transformative policy solutions. Visit www.TexasAppleseed.org for more information.
About Texas Civil Rights Project
The Texas Civil Rights Project is boldly serving the movement for equality and justice in and out of the courts. We use our tools of litigation and legal advocacy to protect and advance the civil rights of everyone in Texas, and we partner with communities across the state to serve the rising movement for social justice. We undertake our work with a vision of a Texas in which all communities can thrive with dignity, justice and without fear.
Disability Rights Texas is the federally designated legal protection and advocacy agency (P&A) for people with disabilities in Texas established in 1977. Its mission is to help people with disabilities understand and exercise their rights under the law, ensuring their full and equal participation in society.
The National Center for Youth Law centers youth through research, community collaboration, impact litigation, and policy advocacy that fundamentally transforms our nation's approach to education, health, immigration, foster care, and youth justice. Our vision is a world in which every child thrives and has a full and fair opportunity to achieve the future they envision for themselves.