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Vicki DePountis, Program Specialist for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Division of Special Education, Texas Education Agency  

Abstract: The Texas Education Agency shares updates on projects and collaborative efforts dedicated to students who are blind, visually impaired, and DeafBlind.

Keywords: Texas Education Agency, TEA, Special Education Strategic Plan, best practices, leadership, local education agency, LEA, Education Service Center, ESC, outcomes, resources, supports

It has been another industrious year as the Texas Education Agency (TEA) continues to execute on the Special Education Strategic Plan. You may recall that last year, TEA increased its capacity to provide technical support by hiring individuals who possess a great deal of expertise in areas related to special education. As you might expect, these program specialists have expertise in areas such as working with students who need sensory supports, early childhood, evaluation, and transition. Other areas of expertise, like parent engagement, dyslexia, and Section 504, reflect the interdisciplinary collaboration necessary to support students with special needs in the general education setting.

As a former teacher of students with visual impairments and certified orientation and mobility specialist, I am honored to serve TEA as the Program Specialist for the Blind and Visually Impaired. The program specialists provide technical assistance within TEA, to local education agencies (LEAs) through the educational service centers (ESCs), and through these newly redesigned Statewide Leadership Networks. I keep up with current research and stay in touch with the needs of students with visual impairment by participating in various workgroups around the state. A large part of my role is to share the information and concerns with the Division of Special Education Programs, other divisions at TEA, and other state agencies.

One of my favorite parts of my job is working with the highly qualified Texas DeafBlind Project team, under the leadership of Emily Coleman, Outreach Director at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI). The Texas Education Agency contracts with TSBVI to improve outcomes for students who are DeafBlind. As project director, I have a front-row view of the team’s in-depth content knowledge and development of internationally used training materials to support students with DeafBlindness, over 81% of whom have identified disabilities in addition to visual and auditory impairments. A new grant cycle began in the Fall of 2018, and the DeafBlind Project was fully funded for another five years. Some of the goals of the DeafBlind Project are to improve educational outcomes, increase early identification, facilitate communication, improve post-school outcomes, engage and empower families, and train qualified personnel. Project goals include systemic collaboration with relevant technical assistance networks, such as the School, Family and Community Engagement Network, one of the ten redesigned technical assistance networks that are part of the Special Education Strategic Plan.

This brings me to a huge TEA endeavor, the redesign of the Statewide Leadership Networks around the following areas of focus:

  • Child Find, Evaluation, and ARD Supports;
  • School, Family, and Community Engagement;
  • Inclusive Services and Practices for Improved Student Outcomes;
  • Support for Students Identified with Autism;
  • Intervention Best Practices;
  • Support for Students with Intensive Needs;
  • Support for Students with Sensory Impairments;
  • Support for Students in Small and Rural LEAs;
  • Child-centered Transitions;
  • Support for Students with Multiple Exceptionalities and Multiple Needs.

These new networks are expected to be in full swing in the 2018-2019 school year.

Big strides have also been made in implementing the Special Education Strategic Plan’s identification, evaluation, and placement initiatives. TEA will require every school system, through both targeted and broad outreach, to notify parents about potential eligibility for special education evaluation. The Evaluation Capacity grant is designed to research, identify, procure, and deploy resources and personnel to assist LEAs in securing appropriately certified and/or licensed evaluation staff for the purposes of completing evaluations for eligibility for special education services within the required timeline. This grant will provide LEAs with improved access to highly trained evaluation personnel and/or funds to free up existing evaluation personnel. Resources and support will be made available to help LEAs across the state quickly fill short-term needs for evaluation personnel. Some LEAs may see an increase in the need to provide these services to students who may not have been identified appropriately. A $65 million infusion of IDEA formula funds has been distributed by TEA to school systems to support any need for additional services to newly identified students. Additionally, another grant opportunity has been released to provide LEAs with resources and guidance specific to the provision of compensatory services in accordance with the requirements of IDEA.

Furthermore, TEA will update guidance and provide training on best practices, including explicit clarification of the interplay between Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), Section 504, dyslexia, and special education. The revised Dyslexia Handbook is available here https://tea.texas.gov/academics/dyslexia/ and will soon be available in Spanish as well.

Also in development are improved training and resources on the dispute resolution process and an internal capacity to hear complaints with a process that is clear to all parties, especially parents. Finally, the new Special Education Review and Support Division, with stakeholder engagement, is defining the review process to focus on improved student outcomes, not just compliance.

As you can see, TEA is working hard to ensure that the state has a strong statewide special education infrastructure, with high expectations, to support students in every part of Texas, at every ability level. Feel free to subscribe to receive topic-specific email notifications on TEA’s activities by clicking on this link: https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/TXTEA/subscriber/new?topic_id=TXTEA_5