Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath discusses public education issues with Tribune CEO Evan Smith at the Austin Club in Austin, Texas on May 17, 2016. 

Shelby Knowles for The Texas Tribune

The U.S. Department of Education is sending representatives to tour Texas and take comment from school community members on special education, continuing to look at whether the state is denying services to students with disabilities. 

Representatives from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services will join Texas Education Agency officials for “listening sessions” in five Texas cities between Dec. 12 and 15. 

After the Houston Chronicle published a report stating that the state education agency has been purposely keeping the special education rate at a low 8.5 percent, the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter Oct. 3 expressing concern that Texas was not complying with federal special education requirements that all eligible students receive services.  

In a subsequent letter, TEA denied allegations that it had capped special education services and said some districts may have been confused about how to use a related indicator for identifying those students. It promised to eliminate the indicator. 

Now, members of the public will get a chance to share their stories directly with government officials. 

"The sessions provide members of the public an opportunity to comment on the timely identification and evaluation of students with disabilities, as well as the delivery of special education and related services to all eligible children under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA," the advisory reads. 

The federal department is also collecting comment on a blog for those who cannot attend any of the listening sessions. 

Officials from the Texas Education Agency have been planning the listening sessions with the federal government, working with regional Education Service Centers to secure meeting sites for the five stops, said agency spokeswoman Lauren Callahan. 

“The listening sessions parallel with our ongoing efforts on the state level to continue to get feedback on this important issue,” she wrote in an email to The Texas Tribune. “As a result, TEA will have representatives at each stop.” 

State and federal officials will be in Dallas, Houston, El Paso, Edinburg and Austin. 

Read related Tribune content here: 

The Texas Education Agency denied allegations that it capped special education services for public school students at 8.5 percent in a letter sent to the U.S. Department of Education.

House Speaker Joe Straus asked the Texas Education Agency to immediately overhaul its system for identifying students in need of special education services.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2016/11/30/feds-tea-tour-texas-public-comment-special-ed/.

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