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Fort Worth ISD Black special education students suspended at higher rates. The state is stepping in

 Black students in special education programs are suspended six times more frequently than white students in special education in Fort Worth ISD. The state is stepping in to help the district resolve the issue.
Rachel Behrndt photo illustration
Fort Worth Report
Black students in special education programs are suspended six times more frequently than white students in special education in Fort Worth ISD. The state is stepping in to help the district resolve the issue.

Fort Worth ISD had three years to correct the issue of Black students in special education getting suspended at a disproportionate rate.

It wasn’t resolved, and now time’s up — the state is intervening.

During the 2021-22 school year, 522 Black students in special education were suspended in Fort Worth ISD compared with 92 white students.

“It doesn’t sit right with me because it’s not fair,” Taundala Tindle, who has a son in the district’s special education program, said. “I think that white kids get more privileges than Black kids because of the color of their skin, and Black people get treated badly because of the color of their skin. … That’s not fair. There shouldn’t be a color line in between them.”

In the annual Texas Academic Performance Report, Fort Worth ISD’s special education department received a “needs intervention” distinction from the state in April. This is a result of a higher proportion of Black students in special education programs getting suspended, the district said.

The Texas Education Agency said this is the third year Fort Worth ISD had these issues, which is primarily what triggered the concern. The district now has to dedicate 15% of its federal special education money to resolving the issue.

Is the state coming to Fort Worth ISD?

The state gathers data in three different areas to determine the needs intervention distinction that goes in the annual report for special education, TEA’s Deputy Commissioner of Special Populations Jennifer Alexander said. Those areas include academic achievement, post-secondary readiness and disproportionate analysis, which means looking at any student populations with disproportionate data — such as African American students getting suspended at higher rates.

Each area gets a performance level between zero and four, with zero being the goal with no issues and four indicating problems to be addressed, said Justin Porter, TEA’s Associate commissioner and chief programs officer.

Beyond the requirement of spending 15% of its federal special education, the state agency has not taken any other action against the district, Porter said. However, if enough areas need intervention, that will trigger a targeted review from the TEA’s monitoring team.

If the monitoring team came to Fort Worth ISD, it would review the program and make corrective plans, he said.

Institutional changes like discipline take longer to change, Porter said, which is why the state gives districts three years before intervening.

“You’re talking about changing discipline systems for kids, but also how teachers approach behavior, the behavior of certain groups of kids, and that’s not an easy fix,” he said. “And so those sorts of things typically take longer to turn around.”

The state measures certain demographic information in special education, and that is a requirement from the federal government, Porter said.

“It’s just directing funds that they already get,” Porter said. “They lose autonomy over how that money is spent. Now, federal requirements are messing with their money, and that is always a motivator.”

What is Fort Worth ISD’s plan?

When Tindle’s son is suspended from school, he’s just sitting at home, his mother said. She thinks a better solution would be to let him stay on campus but be in a different room so he can work on his assignments.

Sometimes, he’s sent home without work and he can’t log into Zoom for class anymore since schools stopped online learning. Tindle is a single mom who doesn’t have a driver’s license or a car, so it’s almost impossible for her to come get him every time he gets in trouble.

Parents in Fort Worth ISD have told Trenace Dorsey-Hollins, leader of the parent advocacy group ParentShield, that they have students in the special education program in Fort Worth ISD who are not receiving adequate services. Instead, she said, students are labeled as a discipline problem.

As a parent of a Black child in special education in Fort Worth ISD, Dorsey-Hollins is concerned about the suspension rates of students like her daughter.

“Our children are already judged and mislabeled, and there’s already like a silent target on their back just because they’re Black boys and Black girls already,” she said.

Without better training for teachers, Dorsey-Hollins said, when students act out, teachers think they’re “just another bad Black kid.”

Without taking the time to nurture children, teachers can overreact, and it can result in suspension for the children, she said.

Corey Golomb, assistant superintendent for specialized support services, knows the district has to improve in the area of Black student suspension in special education settings — and it’s something she said she’s been working on for five years.

Yet, the problem persists.

Corey Golomb, assistant superintendent for specialized support services in Fort Worth ISD

Golomb’s department has worked with campuses to help them understand special education students better, alternatives to suspension and culturally responsive strategies, she said.

The solutions are more of an overall look at suspension and discipline among special education students, though. The only solution the district pointed to that could specifically tie back to the high suspension rates of Black students are the culturally responsive strategies.

If a student is removed from a classroom even twice, Golomb said, the district should be working on behavior intervention plans because it means something the staff is doing isn’t working.

Most issues happen on middle school campuses, she said, so the district has compiled a team across 10 middle schools to work with social workers on trauma responses andrestorative discipline, which focuses on preventing discipline issues versus only punishment.

Janice Carter, executive director of special education services, said most special education students in Fort Worth ISD are in general education classrooms — most students don’t need to be in a separate classroom all day, so the support also needs to extend to other areas of campuses.

“Sometimes you wonder, is it the disability that’s causing the discipline? Or is it the discipline that’s causing the disability? You have to really narrow down to see what is the cause of when children act out,” Golomb said.

An example of a disability causing the discipline issue is often related to autism, Golomb said. A few years ago, a student on the autism spectrum was in a general education classroom when there was a fire drill. The student was not prepared and did not handle loud noises well. He then went under the desk and did not do the drill as he was supposed to.

“He wouldn’t move and people got all upset with him,” Golomb said. “Where it could have been prevented, had they worked with the school and said, ‘This is a disability this child has. He does not react well to loud noises. So let’s prep him.’”

An example of the opposite issue — disability and discipline not being related — would be a student who has a learning disability bringing drugs to school, Golomb said. The two are not related.

Those are the kind of issues the administration is working to train staff on to help address state concerns.

“At a lot of our campuses, we’ve noticed improvement,” Golomb said. “Now, we’ve had turnover in the district and we’ve had zone changes, we’ve had staff shortages. And I’m not making excuses — it’s just a reality of where we are and that sometimes doesn’t help. I think it’s unfortunate. But this pandemic, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of the impact from this pandemic. I think it’s going to take a few years to recover from this.”

Parents have to be more involved — and the schools have to keep them informed — to resolve this issue, Dorsey-Hollins said. For example, a child might be acting out as a result of their disability — like Golomb said — and an adjustment to their learning plan might be the solution, she said.

As a parent, Tindle said that teacher training is important. She knows the state is experiencing a teacher shortage, but that doesn’t mean people should be put in classrooms without training on how to help special education students.

She tries to see both sides of the matter. Tindle knows children can be disrespectful and teachers are overworked and underpaid. However, “That’s their job and yelling and cussing and being disrespectful to (students), that’s not fair to them either,” Tindle said.

“Give (students) something to look forward to, to make them want to come to school and want to do the work,” Tindle said. “Let them be able to come home and tell their parents something good.”

Tindle’s son wants to play football next year. He loves to play games and spend time with his friends. Tindle knows he sometimes misbehaves, and she makes him face those consequences. What she wants is for other children to face the same consequences, too.

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily Toreador at Texas Tech University. To contact her, email