Parents and teachers voiced concerns over the special education controversy and the school district’s silence on the subject during a public forum that drew a standing-room-only crowd Tuesday at the Killeen Independent School District’s school board meeting.
“We want and need to make sure the employees of KISD and the public stay informed. So tonight we respectfully request the board to please provide a detailed report as to the steps being taken by the board to evaluate the issues in the special education department,” said Rick Beaule, president of the Killeen Educators Association.
Beaule brought the initial results of a KEA survey conducted over the holiday weekend in regard to KEA members’ thoughts about what was termed the special education “scandal.”
The survey followed a recent Texas Education Agency report about the district’s inadequate testing compliance and a subsequent investigative series by the Herald on Killeen ISD’s special education department.
“Nearly 80 percent of the members stated that they are following the scandal. Two-thirds also stated their primary information source is the media and not the district. Ninety percent have at least a moderate-to-high level of concern about the scandal. Seventy percent support and trust the formation of a review board or task force consisting of members of KISD, its employees and members of the community,” Beaule said.
The board meeting was packed — a rarity for a regular meeting.
“The information that has been coming from the media is consistent with what I have been reporting to this board for years,” Phyllis Nairn told the board Tuesday.
During a public forum, the amount of money Killeen ISD spends on legal counsel was brought into question.
“I am concerned about the students, the amount of money that is spent on attorney’s fees has been astronomical over the years — yet children are educated on the stage and a portable can’t be put on a campus. It is time for the complaints not to go away but to be resolved. If we continue to sweep these issues under the rug, the children will suffer,” Nairn said.
“I’ve been in litigation with KISD for several years now. I filed a due process hearing. I’ve been appealing the hearing officer’s decision. On Oct. 8 we have a hearing date in New Orleans in front of the 5th Circuit court. These court cases typically cost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Lan Carter said.
“I am appealing because no one should be told that their child is being given a generic goal because that’s what they give autism students. No one should be told to try again next year after being denied services for their child.”
Other people voiced support for the school district.
“I am here tonight because I want you to know you have my support,” said Irene Andrews, a retired Killeen ISD special education teacher.
“In order to change for the better, we must be forthright. There are problems, but they are fixable. I see a need for greater transparency, and I implore you to have the courage to create a process by which your districtwide teaching staff may communicate and even critique their leadership. When there is a fear of reprisal for fear of being forthright, it is paralyzing to communication.”
“I have given my life to special-needs kids and they deserve at least as much as every other child in this district,” Andrews said.
Many mothers of special-needs children addressed the board.
“Last year, my son said he’d rather kill himself than go back to West Ward (Elementary),” Connie Fouchs told the board as tears ran down her face.
Her son is in fourth grade but reads on a first-grade level, she said.
“I almost sent my son back to my family to get the proper education he deserves.”
“The (Killeen Daily) Herald, as you know, has cast a critical yet truthful spotlight on special education and its issues,” said Kris Hayhurst, mother of an autistic Killeen ISD student. “I hope in the future that you move forward.
“Rather than secrecy, we want transparency — not in a way that violates people’s rights or privacy but in a way that encourages community involvement, parent participation and student success for the differently abled on an equal level,” Hayhurst said.
“I would like to see a special ed department that supports its teachers and it’s families that is proactive instead of reactive — heading off problems before they happen.”
The group of special-needs mothers and teachers talked after the public forum about a need for a support group or a parental advisory board.
The board’s bylaws prohibit members from responding to comments made during public forums.