Group sues Austin ISD over student disability assessments

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The lawsuit claims the district has a history of delayed assessments even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

AUSTIN, Texas – Texas Disability Rights (DRTx) and Susman Godfrey srl announced on Monday that they are taking legal action against Austin ISD, claiming that the district fails thousands of students with disabilities.

The lawsuit claims that AISD has refused to address systemic issues impacting its evaluation system, including staff shortages and growing backlogs of outstanding evaluations. They claim that over the past year, the system has resulted in delayed initial assessments of at least 800 students and delayed reassessments of around 1,600 students. These delays would be in direct violation of deadlines established by federal and state laws.

As a result of these failures, the plaintiffs claim that students are not receiving essential special education services or that they are receiving services based on outdated assessments. And they say some students are not getting any educational services because of the delays.

As a parent, Jaren Schiavolin is desperate to give her child the help he needs.

“It’s so difficult,” said Schiavolin.

Schiavolin is one of the many parents who tried to have her 6-year-old daughter, Geneviève, assessed for special education at AISD. Schiavolin said AISD agreed to assess Geneviève in December.

By state law, a school district is required to respond to a parent’s written request for an initial special education assessment within 15 school days by providing consent for the assessment or prior written notice. explaining why the district does not agree to assess. Once consent is given, the initial special education assessment must be completed within 45 school days. And once a child is enrolled in special education, federal regulations state that a reassessment must take place at least every three years, unless a parent decides it’s not necessary.

It is almost April and Schiavolin said she is still awaiting an assessment.

“I didn’t realize at the time that there was this huge systemic problem,” Schiavolin said. “The pressure that the delay in diagnosis puts on the family is, it’s just unfortunate and unnecessary.”

“We have discovered that several thousand Austin ISD students have delayed assessments,” said Dustin Rynders of DRTx. “You need to bring those students who have been left behind.”

DRTx provided an example with the case of JR, a 4-year-old child with autism and expressive language disorder. Although children generally start school around the age of 5, younger ones can receive a public education if they are assessed and have a disability. Because they say JR was not assessed by AISD, he is not receiving any education service.

Other child applicants include:

  • a 6 year old boy with sensory processing disorder and ADHD
  • a 5-year-old girl suspected of anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and selective mutism
  • a 6-year-old girl with speech problems and dyslexia
  • a 10 year old boy with an emotional disorder, a specific learning disability and autism

DRTx said he believes each of these children will be eligible for special education services when they are fully assessed.

“You would think, or the district might have you believe, that the pandemic is the cause of this delay, but it is not,” said Rynders. “Our investigation shows that AISD has a history of these delays. They rob so many students of not only what they are legally entitled to have, but also the chance to have a prosperous future.”

“For far too long, needy students in Austin have gone unrepresented,” said David Peterson, partner at Susman Godfrey and senior legal counsel. “It’s time for someone to take a stand and give these kids the attention and support they deserve. Susman Godfrey is proud to partner with DRTx to give these children a voice.

When contacted for a statement, AISD said he had not yet been served and was working to obtain a copy of the lawsuit. The district also said it could not respond to pending litigation.

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