In an investigative report released in May 2019, Disability Rights Texas (DRTx) revealed a troubling trend regarding the education of students with mental illness.
After a year of monitoring the provision of education in psychiatric hospitals, DRTx discovered that almost no hospitals and schools maintain the ongoing partnerships required by state law to ensure children in psychiatric hospitals receive education services.
Furthermore, this problem disproportionately impacts foster youth who are grossly overrepresented among those in the hospitals and stay for longer periods of time.
In the report, “How Texas Schools Are Failing Students – Again,” DRTx explains current legal requirements regarding collaboration between school districts and hospitals, our findings during monitoring, and recommendations for the agencies that serve these youth including Texas Education Agency (TEA), Texas Department of Protective and Family Services, and psychiatric hospitals.
The provision of education while hospitalized ensures after-care success for all students. With foster youth being one of the most vulnerable populations in the state, the agencies who serve these children must fortify their commitment to ensuring they receive quality education that can serve them for the rest of their lives.
One author of the report, Adrian Gaspar, is a policy fellow for Disability Rights Texas who was in the foster care system and knows firsthand the struggles these children experience. He was hospitalized as a teenager for an unnecessarily prolonged period and did not receive educational services. “Foster youth already face more than their fair share of obstacles,” said Gaspar. “Depriving them of their legal right to educational services while hospitalized just makes things worse.”
Gaspar says he somehow found it in himself to take initiative to read textbooks on his own while hospitalized and advocate for himself upon returning to school to make sure he stayed on track with his studies. He knew other foster youth who failed courses or school and how it negatively altered the course of their lives. He did not want that to be his future.
Gaspar went on to graduate from high school and earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees. “I took initiative and advocated for myself,” he said. “But most kids – foster or not – don’t think that way. That is why it is so important for the people of Texas and our lawmakers to know about the findings in this report and about this relatively unknown yet prevalent education issue impacting our youth.”
“The law details methods for ensuring these students receive educational services,” said Dustin Rynders, Supervising Attorney for the DRTx Education Team. “But school districts still ignore children in mental health hospitals throughout the state, and TEA does nothing to address the situation proactively.” Rynders added that this failure continues the long theme of denial that DRTx first brought to light with TEA’s 8.5% cap on special education.
Rynders says that now that the cap is gone, the state must ensure TEA begins requiring districts to identify and serve all students eligible for special education services – including those in hospitals.
The DRTx report includes extensive recommendations for the agencies that are legally responsible for providing education. “We welcome the opportunity to work with all of these organizations to remedy the problem and ensure our state’s children are set up to succeed in school and life,” said Rynders.