Special Populations

Special Needs

According to the law, Texas public schools are required to offer free, special services to students ages 3-21 with designated disabilities. Special services are usually divided into two different types of learning environments, depending on the individual student’s needs. The first learning environment includes the student in general education classrooms with available special services. The second places the child in “self-contained” classrooms, which are separate rooms reserved only for the education of students with special needs. Some students remain in self-contained classrooms full-time, while others split their time between both types of classes.


Parents ask for an evaluation by submitting a written request to their child’s school. Once the school receives the written request, the evaluation must take place within 45 school days.
Parents are invited to ARD Meetings if the evaluation reveals their child has at least one of the following disabilities: physical disability, intellectual disability, emotional disturbance, learning disability, autism, speech disability, or traumatic brain injury.
The goal of an ARD meeting is to understand a child’s disability level and create an Individualized Education Plan or IEP. Parents, educators, and special education experts work together to create this plan. IEPs will include academic and non-academic recommendations including teaching methods, social time, and classroom time.
Some children will also have a Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP). BIP’s can be helpful when a child’s behavior may cause disruptions in the classroom.



Parents have several rights concerning their child’s special needs education. Going through the evaluation and ARD process can be difficult, and parents are an important voice for their child’s needs.
School districts must follow specific time requirements throughout the ARD process. Once a written request for an evaluation is submitted, the school district must respond within 15 school days with its intent to conduct an evaluation or a written notice of their refusal. Within 45 school days from the initial request, the evaluation must be completed. After an ARD meeting date is determined, the district is required to notify parents at least 5 school days in advance so they can make any needed arrangements to attend the meeting.
Parents have the right to disagree with the IEP created during their child’s ARD meeting. If parents disagree, they have up to 10 school days to consider the plan and meet with the ARD committee for the second time. During the 10 school days, the ARD committee must consider alternatives to the current IEP.
Specific people must be involved in ARD meetings and the development of an IEP. The meeting should include: a parent or guardian, at least one of the child’s teachers, a representative from the school district, someone familiar with the way the child learns best based on his/her evaluation results, a career or technical education representative, other people with special knowledge of the child, and the child, if appropriate.
If English is not a parent’s primary language, the school district is required to provide a translated written or video copy of the IEP proceedings. Parents can also request an interpreter be present at the ARD meeting.

English Language Learners

Many students in Texas public schools do not speak English as their first language, and English only classrooms are often not helpful for students who are still learning. Texas schools are required to provide an opportunity for every child to learn English, known as special language programs. If a child is having difficulty completing his or her classwork due to their English proficiency, there are options available to help ensure their needs are being met.


School districts are required to send out home language surveys at the start of each school year to new students or to students who have not been surveyed. The home language survey helps the school understand a student’s level of English comprehension. The information provided on this survey will help the school determine the support programs a child should participate in.


After language testing, children are separated into different English comprehension levels. Each classification will offer different services and language programs.
English Language Learner = a student unable to communicate fluently or learn effectively in English.
Limited English Proficiency = a student whose English language skills are limited and may make performing classwork in English difficult.
Schools offer a variety of programs to help students at all different levels. The types of programs offered in a particular district depend on available resources, such as funding and qualified teachers.
» English as a Second Language (ESL)
In an ESL classroom, students may have different language backgrounds, with lessons taught entirely in English. ESL teachers are not required to understand their students’ native language. ESL instruction may happen through ‘pull-outs’ which takes students out of their normal class schedule for special sessions. This type of program is usually used in schools that have limited teachers and classrooms.
» Bilingual Education
All the students in a bilingual class speak the same native language. Students are initially taught in both languages, but as time passes, their teacher will slowly phase out the foreign language and teach only in English.
» Dual-Language Or Two-Way Bilingual Program
In a dual-language classroom, half of the students are native English speakers, and the other half are students who speak the same foreign language. Teachers conduct lessons in both languages. These programs are beneficial to both student groups, as they all get to learn a new language.
No matter their classification or program, students should receive language support in all of their classes. This may include the use of a Spanish-English dictionary or extended time on tests/assignments.

Immigrant Communities

Texas students come from all backgrounds and cultures. All children, regardless of their immigration status, have the right to public education.


Schools are not allowed to ask about the immigration status of their students or their families. Schools are also not allowed to require or collect information that would expose anyone’s undocumented status, such as a social security number. Schools are considered “Sensitive Locations” by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This means U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials are discouraged from monitoring these spaces and must get special permission to make arrests or inquiries in these locations. Other Sensitive Locations include:
Other places of education (daycare, college, school bus stop, etc.) Hospitals and other healthcare facilities Churches/places of worship Weddings & funerals Public demonstrations (marches, rallies, parades)
The DHS Sensitive Location Policy exists so families can access essential programs and services without fear or hesitation. Parents and community members can report violations of the policy at (888) 351-4024 or online at www.ice.gov/webform/ero-contact-form. Note, these policies can change quickly and may not offer complete protection for undocumented individuals.


Children thrive on stability and structure. Transitioning from one country to another or worrying about the immigration status of their loved ones would be difficult for any child. These added stressors in a child’s development may impact their performance or behavior in school. Whether children are overcoming trauma endured in their home country, experiencing culture shock, or are worried they will be separated from family or friends, it’s important for parents to recognize their stress and provide comfort when possible.
Some students may even struggle to feel safe in their school environment. This can lead students to distrust their teachers and authority figures, be overly alert to danger, act out negatively, or even think negatively of themselves. None of these feelings are great for student learning. Parents may help their children feel safer by talking through student fears of deportation, creating and sharing emergency plans, or seeking counseling or therapy services.



RAICES  » provides free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families, and refugees in Texas – raicestexas.org
BakerRipley » provides legal assistance including personal consultation, application preparation and filing, and administrative, legal representation – bakerripley.org/services
FIEL » Provides a variety of immigration services for the community – fielhouston.org
United We Dream » Leads immigrant youth-led campaigns at the local, state, and federal level to fight for justice and dignity for immigrants – unitedwedream.org

Gifted & Talented

If children display special leadership skills or academic talents compared to their peers, he or she may be eligible for a school’s Gifted and Talented (G/T) Education Program. The purpose of a G/T program is to provide intelligent, curious students with an education that meets his/her needs and challenges their growth. There are a wide range of students who classify as G/T, and a child can be G/T even if he/she does not make good grades.


In Texas, schools start evaluating for G/T abilities in Kindergarten and continue through 12th Grade. Each district has different schedules and procedures for this evaluation, but it will take place at least once a year. Tests should be conducted in the easiest language for them to speak. To be evaluated, a student must typically be nominated by a teacher, parent, community member, or school staff. Parents can call their school campus or school district to learn about the process and timeframe for nomination and testing.


Depending on the programs offered in a child’s school district, the G/T curriculum will vary. Some programs are individualized, meaning a child’s teacher will approach each student with a unique way to pursue his/her learning according to the level that he or she is at academically. Additionally, some school districts offer special clusters of curriculum that your child can be part of. If a district offers this, the curriculum will be specialized based on if he/she tests into a certain G/T category. For example, a child may have above average intellectual ability or maybe more creative. Ideally, his/her learning will be tailored to which type of G/T cluster he/she falls into.


Sometimes, G/T students feel that their schoolwork is too easy. When this happens, students can become bored, begin to put in less effort, and “zone out” or misbehave during school. To ensure children continue to grow and develop, here are a few things parents can do:

Parents should contact their district or school and research their evaluation policies if they think their child might be eligible for Gifted and Talented programs.


LGBTIQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Questioning. LGBTIQ children are more likely to experience exclusion, harassment, and physical violence than their non-LGBTIQ peers. This experience can make it difficult for a child to learn in school and feel a sense of belonging with their peers. To support a child’s social, emotional, and educational well-being, parents and allies should consider:
» Listen to your child, provide words of encouragement, and check in often.
» Educate yourself on LGBTIQ terms and issues. Visit mykidisgay.com, pflag.org or lgbt.ucla.edu/LGBT101 for great parent resources.
» Provide access to a safe and supportive environment with other students. This safe space could be your home or a community organization.
» Respect the privacy and confidentiality of your child. They may not want you to share information with friends, family, or teachers.
» If your child is being bullied at school, you can contact the school principal, guidance counselor, or a supportive teacher to determine how the school can intervene.


» Respect all students and use their preferred pronouns.
» Research local and school policies. In some cases, it may be necessary to advocate for inclusive policies at a school.
» Visitwww.glsen.org for ways to promote inclusivity.


Many families struggle to find affordable housing, and as a result experience homelessness or housing insecurity. Under federal law, students experiencing homelessness can stay at their origin school (the school of their last address), or immediately enroll in the school closest to where they currently reside. Changing schools often or abruptly can negatively impact a student’s academic performance. A familiar and stable school environment can often provide comfort to children experiencing uncertainty at home.
Families struggling with housing should connect with their school’s homeless education liaison. Talk to school counselors, principals, or district officials to find your school’s liaison or visit the Texas Homeless Education Office website www.theotx.org. Homeless education liaisons can provide guidance and assist with a child’s enrollment. The homeless education liaison can also connect families with organizations or programs that provide free or reduced meals, immunizations, health and dental care, educational assistance, and access to school supplies or other immediate needs.

Foster Care

The lack of stability many children face in the foster care system puts them at greater risk of getting behind in school and dropping out. To keep children connected with teachers, friends, and familiar spaces, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) works with the local education agencies to help students remain in their current school. Foster parents can also help students stay on track by providing a stable and supportive learning environment.
Foster Parents Or Guardians May Want To:
»Meet with teachers to make them aware of issues at home and determine if tutoring or any extra academic or emotional support is necessary.
» Encourage foster children to make friends and join after-school activities. A sense of belonging is important to their well-being and can help them enjoy school.
»Provide regular access to a trusted adult (teacher, school counselor, case manager), so foster children have someone else to go to with their problems or concerns.
»Help foster children think towards the future and explore potential internships or scholarship opportunities together. Financial aid specifically for children transitioning out of the foster care system is available, including free tuition in many cases.
For more resources visit tea.texas.gov/FosterCareStudentSuccess.

Stay Updated, Subscribe to Our Newsletter!

Texasschoolguide.org Experience Survey: