HOUSTON (FOX 26) - For those in charge of special education in Texas, the reckoning has come.
Compelled by the anguished accounts of thousands of parents and reams of corroborating data the U.S. Department of Education has concluded Texas systematically denied critical services to hundreds of thousands of disabled students, altering the life out-comes of far too many.
"We will never know the total number of students who dropped out because they didn't get what they need, who ended up in jail because they dropped out because they didn't get what they needed. There's no getting back years of your life that went in the wrong direction because of what you didn't get," said Dustin Rynders with Disability Rights-Texas.
It was Rynders who first blew the whistle and an investigative series by the Houston Chronicle which uncovered a sinister, decade-and-a-half-long policy capping the number of students eligible for federally guaranteed Special Education services - a colossal shortchanging which collectively saved school districts and the state billions of dollars, but left countless kids under prepared.
"This is the biggest civil rights violation in the state of Texas right now. What the state did by having this arbitrary cap is they violated the rights of those who cannot protect themselves and now what the federal government is saying is go find those kids give them the services they were entitled to and I don't care how hard it is to do it, spend the money and get your job done," said Chris Tritico, Fox 26 Legal Analyst.
In response to the Federal findings, Governor Greg Abbott issued a demand for immediate reform at the Texas Education Agency giving Commissioner Mike Morath a deadline of seven days and insisting on input from parents and special needs advocates.
"One thing we need from our state agency is to involve the stake holders that they've been treating as enemies for too long in every big decision that's being made from the state level," said Rynders.
"It's a victory for parents. It's a victory for children. It's a victory for public education in the state of Texas, something our state has been ignoring for a very long time," said Tritico.
By the time whistle was fully blown, Texas had cut the number of students receiving Special Ed services to half the national average.
In response to the Governor, TEA Commissioner Morath pledged swift action shaped by ongoing guidance from parents and advocates.