Laurie Kash

Laurie Kash

Federal officials have ordered the Texas Education Agency to pay a former special education director more than $200,000 in damages for illegally firing her.

Laurie Kash filed a federal complaint Nov. 21, 2017, with the U.S. Department of Education, claiming the TEA had illegally awarded a no-bid contract to a company to analyze private records of students receiving special education services.

A day later, the TEA fired her. But state officials said Kash was terminated because employees at a former job filed a civil lawsuit against her alleging she had covered up the sexual abuse of a 6-year-old.

In a decision issued Friday, the U.S. Department of Education said Kash had "met her burden of showing that her protected disclosures were contributing factors" in her termination. It also said that the TEA failed to prove it would have fired her without her whistleblower complaint.

It ordered compensatory damages, including attorney's fees, in the total amount of $202,711.20.

In a press release Friday afternoon, the TEA called the ruling "extremely disappointing" and said it would appeal the case.

Less than a month after firing Kash, the TEA ended its no-bid special education contract — losing millions of dollars — and promised to review its own contracting processes. A year later, state auditors found the TEA had failed to follow all the required steps before awarding the contract.

It also had failed to identify the personal relationship between the subcontractor and the main decision maker for the contract: Penny Schwinn, who was then the agency's deputy commissioner of academics.

Texas is still in the middle of a federally mandated overhaul of special education after a separate federal investigation found it had been effectively denying students with disabilities the tools and services they needed in order to learn. Parents and school officials argue the agency has failed to fix the problem.

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