Bill of the Week: SB 89

This graphic has a blue capitol building on the left. The blue text on the banner reads Bill of The Week SB 89 (senate bill 89).

For this weekly feature, the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (TCDD) profiles a noteworthy bill that is currently going through the legislative process. The bill may relate directly to TCDD’s Public Policy Priorities or another disability-related issue.

Bill: Senate Bill (SB) 89, relating to supplemental information required for inclusion with a written statement of an individualized education program (IEP) developed for certain public school students who received special education services during the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school year.

Bill Author: Sen. José Menéndez, Texas Senate District 26 (San Antonio)

What does the bill do?
SB 89 would be known as the COVID-19 Special Education Recovery Act.

As introduced, the bill would require that for each student enrolled in special education during the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years, the school district would create a supplement to the written statement of the IEP developed for the child, which would include:

  • Whether the written report of the child’s full individual and initial evaluation was completed during the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school years and, if so, whether the report was completed by the date required
  • Whether the child’s initial IEP was developed during the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school years and, if so, whether the program was developed by the date required
  • Whether the provisions of special services under an IEP were interrupted, reduced, delayed, suspended, or discontinued during the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school years
  • Whether compensatory educational services are appropriate for the child based on the information above or any other factors

A committee substitute of the bill indicates that it would not apply to schools that are already implementing similar practices in their special education programs.

If passed, SB 89 will take effect Sept. 1, 2021. However, the bill will take effect immediately if it receives a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate. The commissioner of education will adopt the necessary rules for implementation by Dec. 1, 2021, and school districts will be required to complete the required supplemental statements of an IEP no later than June 1, 2022.

Background Information:
A central element of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) is the notion that each child who is referred to special education will receive an IEP. A student’s IEP is usually updated once a year and consists of goals for the future, measurable ways to meet those goals, and any accommodation services that might be necessary. The IEP is created by the student’s Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) committee, which is made up of the child’s parents, teachers, and other support staff. Together, they write the child’s IEP with special attention to the child’s needs, desires, and collective expectations.

According to the Texas Statewide Behavioral Health Strategic Plan, 498,588 students ages 3-21 received special education services in Texas in the 2017-2018 school year.

Throughout the pandemic, TCDD has collected data on how people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families have been impacted by the pandemic. TCDD’s Texas COVID Stories survey gave many respondents the opportunity to report just how difficult it has been to receive adequate special education services and supports online, and 57% of survey respondents reported their access to special education services has changed or been disrupted.

Statement from the bill author, Sen. José Menéndez: 

This is a photo of Senator José Menéndez wearing a purple tie and black jacket.

“I filed SB 89 to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on some of our most vulnerable students with special needs. We’ve heard how hard it’s been for every student, but especially our special needs students, to focus on a computer when they are used to getting in-person education.”

Where is the bill in the process?
On March 18, 2021, SB 89 received a public hearing before the Senate Committee on Education and was left pending. When a bill is left pending, this means that the committee did not vote on the bill and it could be considered again at a future committee meeting. You can watch the discussion on the bill here, beginning at the 2:52:30 mark.

Who supports the bill and why?
The following comments were taken from the March 18, 2021 public hearing of the Senate Committee on Education:

  • DRTx: Steven Aleman, speaking in his role as senior policy analyst for Disability Rights Texas (DRTx), testified in support of the bill: “From last school year, we know that there were over 9,000 students that completely disappeared from school systems after the closures because of the pandemic. … Those are just the minimum numbers and we assume those students completely missed out on special education services alone. The numbers are presumably even higher and the problems persisted into this school year, as well. Talking about solutions for students with disabilities, we have an opportunity to do something specific by establishing a specific, uniform approach to addressing missed services.”
  • TxP2P: Linda Litzinger, speaking in her role as public policy analyst for Texas Parent to Parent (TxP2P) and as the mother of a student with cerebral palsy, offered comments in support of the bill: “Students have been cut off from the list of services in their IEP. Schools are not to blame; teachers are not to blame. But the truth is that every parent with a child with a disability is asking, ‘will my child ever catch up?’ Parents are reporting to us that … their child did not make the progress that they usually made when in school, some even regressed. It was terribly hard to communicate between teachers and support staff and the child at home.”

The following groups also registered their support for the legislation but provided no testimony: the Texas Association of School Administrators, the Texas Association of School Boards, The Arc of Texas, the Texas State Teachers Association, the Texas Association for Behavioral Analysis Public Policy Group, the Intercultural Development Research Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Federation of Teachers, Texans Care for Children, the City of Houston, and the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association.

Who opposes the bill and why?
No opposition to the bill was registered at the March 18 public hearing.

Additional testimony:

  • Educator Perspective: David Edgerson, a career educator with 30 years of service in Texas public schools and currently serving as a special education director in North Texas, provided remarks on the bill: “[The bill] has great merit because … it does not cause undue burden for school districts already performing the practice, and that’s a great thing. We want to ensure this practice is happening across the state. … the impact [of the pandemic] on a special education student is far greater than on a general education student.”
  • TCDD: Sabrina Gonzalez, public policy analyst for TCDD, submitted written comments on the bill: “Given the widespread negative impact the necessary school closures have had on students with disabilities, TCDD has reason to believe that many students and families will be eligible to receive compensatory services. Senate Bill 89 is a first step in supporting students with disabilities as we respond to the disruption the COVID-19 pandemic has caused. SB 89 is consistent with the goals of TCDD and will help ensure that students with disabilities receive the support they need and the compensatory services they may be entitled to.”

Additional information:
Though TCDD takes no formal position on SB 89, the Council lists the topic of Early Childhood and Inclusive Education among its 2021 Public Policy Priorities. That priority reads as follows:

Ensure that students with disabilities are being supported and are receiving a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Hold Local Education Agencies (LEAs) accountable and ensure the enforcement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and Section 504. Finally, ensure that students with disabilities that have experienced a disruption in learning, services, or supports receive the compensatory services they are due.

How much will the bill cost?
The Legislative Budget Board (LBB) determined the bill would not increase the state’s budget in a significant way.

Is there a House companion to the bill?
Rep. Mary González has filed House Bill (HB) 144, an identical Senate companion to SB 89.

Additionally, Rep. González has filed HB 2125, which would allow for students over 21 to remain eligible to participate in special education for an additional year if they received special education services during the school years impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and if the students continue to have a disability.

Stay informed:
For the latest information about where SB 89 is in the process, follow the bill on the Texas Legislature Online. To receive future legislative updates from TCDD, subscribe to TCDD eNews or follow us on Twitter.


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