EL PASO, Texas - Borderland parents poured their hearts out at a so-called listening session hosted by the U.S. Department of Education.
Officials were in El Paso as part of a tour of Texas to take public comment on the state reportedly capping student enrollment in special education.
Federal officials will visit Houston, Dallas, Austin, El Paso and the Rio Grande this month.
The Houston Chronicle has reported that schools began denying special education services after the state imposed an 8.5 percent enrollment benchmark in 2004.
Tim Smith is the parent of a child with special needs. He drove seven hours from Round Rock, Texas, to attend the meeting held at the Education Service Center Region 19.
"I wanted to let people know that I find it disturbing and appalling that the state of Texas would even consider placing a cap on the number of students who would be afforded special education services," Smith said.
In a subsequent letter to the Department of Education, the Texas Education Agency denied imposing enrollment caps. It said it had no evidence of a "systematic denial" of special education services to students with disabilities.
But the Houston Chronicle reported in the decade since the TEA set the benchmark, the percentage of students receiving services dropped from near the national average of 13 percent down to exactly 8.5 percent.
That is the lowest percentage of any state in the country.
Becca Gregory is the parent of a child with special needs. She took her turn at the microphone with criticisms of the special education her son is receiving.
"As the mother of a child with autism, I have witnessed the atrocities justified by the TEA firsthand as the direct result of policy deemed good practice by the TEA and EPISD. My son was diagnosed with autism and severe depression. He would routinely come home with bloody fingertips and bruises all over his body," Gregory said.
El Paso Independent School District board trustee Susie Byrd was shocked by the allegations.
"For me it is very alarming that there would be any sort of mandate that would seek to minimize the cost associated with serving special needs students," Byrd said. "Any attempts to undermine that really important obligation are not only wrongheaded but I believe also illegal. EPISD I think is well above the cap, so we are are serving many students in excess of what that cap was. If there was a cap from TEA, I know we did not abide by that," Byrd said.
Houston Chronicle reporter Brian Rosenthal reported, "In the decade since the TEA set the 8.5 percent benchmark, the percentage of students receiving services has dropped from near the national average of 13 percent down to exactly 8.5 percent. That is the lowest of any state in the country, by far."
"What crystal ball are they looking into? I would like to know that. With the explosion of autism the rates could triple next year. No one knows," Smith said.
The TEA said it will work to eliminate confusion by districts over enrollment.
Members of the public who were unable to attend sessions can leave online comments for department officials.