February 27, 2022


by: admin


Tags: decry, Disaster, education, KISD, lack, Parents, special


Categories: Special needs education

‘A catastrophe:’ Mother and father decry lack of particular schooling assist at KISD | Training

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of reports on special education in public schools in the Killeen-Copperas Cove area.

When Autumn and Christian Thomas moved back to their hometown of Killeen with their daughter, the couple said they looked forward to watching her grow up in the same school system they attended — the Killeen Independent School District.

But after battling the district’s special education department for appropriate services for their child for years, the couple decided homeschooling was the only option to protect their child’s mental and physical health.

“It was just a disaster from the get-go,” Autumn Thomas told the Herald. “I personally had a good experience growing up in KISD, but my partner had one closer to our kiddo’s experience. I thought this was a good district and learned real quick why my partner was concerned. We trusted them and I feel bad for doing so because it hurt our kiddo.”

When the Thomas’ daughter was a baby, Autumn Thomas she said she had a feeling her first-born was neurodivergent.

“For the longest time, her favorite toy was cans of green beans — she just stacked them, she’d bring them to us to stack, and if you came to my house, you’d have an armful of cans,” she said .

Their daughter, now almost 9 years old, is on the autism spectrum and has emotional disturbance issues that can easily be triggered if the right accommodations are not in place.

Under federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, school districts must ensure students ages 3-21 with a disability are provided a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) tailored to their individual needs — which often includes an array of specialized services and accommodations to assist students.

Without special education accommodations, Autumn Thomas said her daughter was targeted for a disciplinary alternative education placement (DAEP) at the age of 6 at Brookhaven Elementary School.

“She would have outbursts that we were still working out with her therapist and psychiatrist,” she said, adding that the outbursts often included screaming and sometimes throwing objects.

“They didn’t want to help her, she was seen as this bad kid who needed to be sent away,” she said. “These are things directly related to her mental and emotional struggle, not things she can entirely help.”

With the assistance of a Brookhaven administrator, Thomas said her daughter was not sent to DAEP but instead designated special education, transferred to Cedar Valley Elementary and placed in a “PBS,” positive behavior support, class.

Their daughter was transferred to another PBS program at Pershing Park Elementary School for second grade, at which point Thomas said she and her husband regretted their decision to enroll their daughter in KISD.

“It was in her IEP (Individualized Education Program) that she had these struggles and things needed to be done specifically to help her, but everything kept being reduced to her not getting her way,” she said.

Thomas said her child’s accommodations — including providing notices before activity changes, and positive reinforcement — were created to aid her in situations that triggered her outbursts.

But the couple said their daughter’s IEP was not being followed as they were being called almost daily to pick her up from school to take her home following an outburst.

At its worst, the Thomases learned during these outbursts their only child was being verbally bullied by her teacher, or locked in a bathroom, or restrained not in a “bear hug” as they had been told but in a way that caused their child a significant amount of pain.

“They were actually restraining her by pulling her arms behind her, crossing in an X and telling her, ‘If you stop, it won’t hurt anymore,'” she said.

When the couple asked the school for “Arrival, Review, Dismissal,” (ARD) meetings to discuss their special education concerns, they were told that an ARD meeting “was unnecessary,” the mother said.

After watching her outbursts increase at home and at school, and her grades plummet, the Thomases ultimately pulled her out of the district at the end of second grade.

She’s been homeschooled this past year and making gains, according to her mom.

“She’s doing extremely well,” she said. “There’s not all these constant issues that we were being called up to the school every day for. A lot of it stemmed from just straight up not wanting to understand her; it just felt like they wrote her off.”

After researching other states’ special education programs, the mother said she’s considering a move to Maine after what she experienced in Texas.

“We have spent a year almost now working really hard to make things better,” she said. “School was a lot of her problem — it caused her so much anxiety and fear that she was melting down constantly. Now, her outbursts are minimal and she’s not violent anymore — all it’s taken is patience and not publicly shaming her.”

Thomas said she wishes the district would do more to support special education students.

“The district can do better to support these kids,” she said. “At this point it feels like they’re choosing not to. We can open new schools every year, we can spend a million on a scoreboard, but we let the special ed kids fall behind and get abused. That doesn’t make any sense.”

The mother said the district needs to provide support for teachers of special education students.

“I feel that more support for the teachers and staff that work for special education is necessary,” she said. “Overstressed and overworked isn’t good for either the teachers or the children.”

This isn’t the first time KISD’s special education department has come under scrutiny.

As previously reported by the Herald, a KISD employee said crucial special education staff are being removed from classrooms to cover for general education teachers, leaving special education students without the services afforded to them under federal law.

In 2016, KISD’s special education department was found to be in need of a “major program overhaul,” according to an internal audit conducted by Gibson Consulting Group — the same group that was hired on Feb. 8 by the KISD school board to conduct another special education audit.

At the time, the audit said KISD’s special education program lacked accountability measures, efficient staffing numbers, and district-wide program consistency.

According to the 2016 audit, the district was also spending less than the state average on special education students.

In the past five years, six families have taken their complaints to the highest level of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) through a “Special Education Due Process Hearing,” but only one has won.

TEA, the same agency tasked with holding Texas school districts, like KISD, accountable, was investigated by the Department of Education and in 2018 found to have violated federal law by placing an 8.5% arbitrary cap on the number of special education students individual districts could serve — leading to the denial of needed educational services to thousands of students with disabilities across the state for years.

As of 2021, the state education agency was still in the process of correcting its failures in that department.

According to the US Department of Education’s website, since 2018, five complaints have been filed with the DOE’s Office of Civil Rights over Killeen ISD’s treatment of students with disabilities.

Killeen ISD spokeswoman Taina Maya told the Herald the district could not comment on a specific student but issued the following statement Friday.

“Killeen ISD takes any allegation of inappropriate restraints and behavior seriously and conducts reviews and investigations when claims are brought forward,” Maya wrote. “Parents are encouraged to follow our dispute resolution process and reach out to us directly if they feel their child’s needs are not being met. Killeen ISD continues to afford students a free and appropriate public education.”


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