Groups call for pause on student special education data project


Two statewide education groups are calling on the Texas Education Agency to suspend its efforts to datamine special education plans for students across Texas, saying parents have been cut out of the process and that privacy questions need to be answered.

Disability Rights Texas — a federally-created group that advocates for people with disabilities — and the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education say the project needs further scrutiny and should be put on pause in light of recent complaints.

But TEA says they have no plans to pause anything. The two advoacy groups have known about the project for months, the agency said in a statement, and have appeared to be supportive until now.

At the heart of the dispute is a project surrounding individualized education plans, which are child-specific blueprints for the kind of services that students with disabilities must receive. Those individualized plans, crafted by both educators and their parents, contain highly personal information such as academic performance, medical care, psychiatric conditions and family relationships. The documents are protected by federal and state privacy rules.

Earlier this year, TEA reached out to districts across the state, inviting them to particpate in a project designed to find hidden trends and patterns in the kind of services being provided to students in Texas. Districts would be paid $10,000 to $100,000 for sharing that information.

TEA is paying Georgia company SPEDx $4.4 million to do the analysis. The company could have access to up to 350,000 plans. Scores of districts across the state, including Eanes and Round Rock, have signed up for the project.

TEA could not be reached for comment. In an email sent to the Statesman, SPEDx founder Richard Nyankori said that while the company is new, he has extensive history in the field of special education.

“Our diverse team is comprised of highly committed people with a profound personal connection to people with special needs and some employees identify as having a disability as well,” he wrote

Texans for Special Education Reform — an advocacy group comprised of parents and other disability rights advocates — raised red flags about the project earlier this year. They objected to the use of SPEDx, saying the company, which was formed in late 2016, does not have a long-established record of IEP data analysis and protecting children’s privacy.

They were also concerned about the fact that the state did not advertise for the project, instead entering into a no-bid contract with SPEDx. State agencies are allowed to use no-bid contracts if the company in question provides services or goods that cannot be provided by others. TEA has said it did a wide search and could not find anyone else who did the kind of analysis offered by SPEDx.

The protest comes two weeks after TEA fired its new special education director, Laurie Kash. State officials say they fired her because she is accused in a recently filed lawsuit of trying to hide allegations of sexual abuse by a 6-year-old child who attended when Kash worked at a school district in Oregon. Kash denies those allegations.

But the firing also came one day after Kash filed a compaint with the U.S. Department of Education, questioning the legality of the project. Kash’s lawyer says she was retaliated against due to her complaints.



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