“Denied: How Texas Keeps Tens of Thousands of Kids Out of Special Education”


Recipient of the Star Investigative Report of the Year award in The Charles E. Green Awards (2016)

Brian Rosenthal, Susan Carroll Hem, St. John Barned-Smith
Houston Chronicle


Judge’s Comments:

All of the entries for this year’s Star Investigative Report of the Year were meritorious. It’s gratifying to see that Texas journalists are doing their jobs–shining a light on behavior that government officials would rather the public not know about. I was impressed by how they fought to get access to public records and put together scattered pieces of data to give their readers a coherent picture of poor government policy or outright malfeasance in office.

My winner, though, is the Houston Chronicle’s series, “Denied,” which uncovered the Texas Education Agency’s covert policy of capping the number of students receiving special education services at 8.5 percent of the student population. This cap, apparently designed to save money during a budget crisis, resulted in uncounted thousands of children with disabilities being denied the special education services they needed to have a chance to succeed in school. As a result of this policy, lives have been marred and families have left the state to try to get help for their children.

Reporter Brian Rosenthal did exhaustive research on this series, with an able assist from St. John Barned-Smith. Rosenthal not only got the statistics right — he told the human stories of family after family victimized by this policy. Rosenthal wrote all of this clearly. He displayed a capability for writing coherent narratives that is essential to compelling long-form journalism. It was truly an impressive piece of reporting.

This citation would not be complete without paying tribute to the remarkable photographs of Maria De Jesus, which accompanied most of the stories in the series. Her candid environmental portraits of children and their families helped readers visualize the suffering behind the data.

Bob Cullen

Bob Cullen is a retired journalist and author from Chevy Chase, Maryland. During his career, he was a diplomatic correspondent for the Associated Press and Moscow bureau chief for Newsweek. His freelance work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic and many other magazines. He is the author or co-author of nineteen books, two of which were named Notable Books of the Year by The New York Times.

To experience the work of the Houston Chronicle’s investigative work on this prize-winning series, select the links below. 


Video Interview with Investigative Reporter Brian Rosenthal

Video Interview with Online Journalists Rachael Gleason and Jordan Rubio

Headliners Foundation