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TEA appoints conservators to oversee Houston ISD special ed department

Houston Chronicle logo Houston Chronicle 1/7/2021 By Jacob Carpenter, Staff writer
a man wearing a suit and tie: Longtime special education administrators Fred Shafer, pictured here in 2014, and Molly Cordeau have been appointed to oversee changes in Houston ISD’s special education department, which came under blistering criticism from state officials following an 11-month investigation that concluded in September 2020. © Jake Daniels / Jake Daniels/The Enterprise

Longtime special education administrators Fred Shafer, pictured here in 2014, and Molly Cordeau have been appointed to oversee changes in Houston ISD’s special education department, which came under blistering criticism from state officials following an 11-month investigation that concluded in September 2020.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath has appointed two longtime special education administrators to oversee wide-ranging changes in Houston ISD’s delivery of services to students with disabilities, which came under withering criticism from state investigators last year.

The selection of conservators Molly Cordeau and Fred Shafer follows a state-initiated special accreditation investigation completed in September 2020 that found HISD has failed to rectify “significant, systemic and widespread” issues in the district’s special education department. Cordeau and Shafer will have the power to order changes in the district, though much of their work likely will involve coordination with district staff implementing new policies and practices.

Cordeau worked at the Region 4 Education Service Center as an education specialist for eight years and director of special education services for three years before starting a consulting firm in 2008, according to her LinkedIn profile. She previously served as a conservator in HISD following a 2010 state investigation into the district’s program for students with disabilities who were in the custody of residential facilities.

Shafer spent 38 years working in the public school field, including 10 as Katy ISD’s executive director of special education and three as director of special education solutions for the Region 4 Education Service Center, which supports nearly 100 traditional and charter school districts in the Houston area. Shafer later served as a state-appointed monitor and conservator in Beaumont ISD amid its financial turmoil in the mid-2010s, then oversaw the district’s special education department for two years.

HISD’s special education department has remained under scrutiny for more than a decade from analysts hired by the district and families of students with disabilities. Following their 11-month investigation, state officials concluded HISD still is failing to identify all students entitled to special education services, provide legally entitled supports to students or hold district staff accountable for shortcomings, among other issues.

HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan’s administration called the investigators’ findings “factually and legally incorrect,” arguing they relied on outdated and incomplete information. District administrators also noted the TEA’s role in creating a since-abandoned artificial cap on the percentage of students with disabilities who could receive services.

Cordeau and Shafer are scheduled to be introduced at an HISD board meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday.

This story will be updated.

jacob.carpenter@chron.com

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