Eli Clark has been waiting nearly a year for help. A good student with dreams of working in neuroscience, Eli, a 17-year-old junior who uses the pronouns they and them, did very well in middle school and was accepted to a competitive magnet high school.
But at the new school, Eli struggled with more challenging coursework and shorter deadlines. They would write down the wrong number when solving a math problem, even knowing the right answer, or read the same page of a book several times to pick up basic details.
Under federal law, students with a disability are entitled to special-education services to help them learn. With an IEP, students can get accommodations, such as sitting close to a teacher or having more time on a test, based on their needs. IEPs can also protect students with disabilities who may otherwise be disciplined or graded harshly. But in some school districts across the country, the pandemic has halted the proceedings that determine whether students are eligible for these services. Thousands of children are in limbo, without the support and accommodations they need, parents and advocates say.
Not all districts have complied, said Dustin Rynders, a supervising attorney with the advocacy group Disability Rights Texas. “In a number of districts, they just said, ‘We aren’t doing any evaluations right now,’ ” he said.
On Oct. 2, Rynders’s organization filed a complaint with the state education agency on behalf of Eli and another student. The complaint said that the Austin Independent School District had failed to provide a timely special-education evaluation to the students, denying them their right to a free and appropriate public education under the law.
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