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Texas Schools Must Pay for Evaluations, E.D. Rules

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Washington--In a decision that could cost Texas school districts millions of dollars, the U.S. Education Department has ruled that the state must change the way it applies a federal requirement for independent diagnostic evaluations of handicapped pupils whose parents disagree with a district's evaluation.

Texas had until late last week to notify the department's office of special-education programs that it was in compliance with the ruling.

The federal Education for All Handicapped Children Act, pl 94-142, gives parents the right to an independent educational evaluation of their child at the school district's expense if they disagree with the district's assessment. The department found that Texas was out of compliance with the law because it gave districts 30 days to correct any defi4ciencies in a child's evaluation before parents could seek an outside opinion.

Patricia Ahearn, a legal examiner for the Texas Education Agency, warned that the policy change could be extremely expensive and could lead to abuses of the system.

Texas now has approximately 370,000 pupils classified as handicapped, she noted. If the parents of even 10 percent of such children requested independent evaluations--at a cost of approximately $500 to $600 each--the total expense to districts could exceed $20 million, she said.

In light of the potential expense, Ms. Ahearn said, the state's interpretation of the federal requirement was a "reasonable" one.

"We were trying to protect everybody's rights and at the same time not have this wasted resource of8money spent on assessments that would be better spent on programs," she said. "If the district is not going to be given a chance to correct its assessments, it does make the thing wide open to abuse."

The Education Department reviewed the policy at the request of a parent-advocacy group in Texas.

The state had informed school districts where complaints were pending to notify parents of the policy change by late last month.

The tea had until last week to pass on documentation to the federal department that corrective action had been taken, or risk losing more than $100 million in federal aid.

Donald Barrett, an information specialist for osep, said the ruling clarified for Texas a policy that has long been in effect, and should not affect other states.--lo

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