Killeen-area special education attorney, Rick Rousseau, of Criss & Rousseau Law Firm, says parents, such as William and Laura Thomas and Jamie Limon, must be their child’s No. 1 advocate while maneuvering through the school system.
“I tell all of my clients, on educational law issues, the parent has to be the biggest advocate in the world for their kids. They have got to be interacting as much as possible with the school, not only with the meetings, but the constant communication with the teachers as far as what’s going on in there,” Rousseau said.
Unfortunately, he explained, hurdles arise when parents do not understand their child’s rights as a student with special needs.
“It was complicated for me the first time I went years ago when my son was in elementary school and I’m an attorney with advanced degrees,” Rousseau said. “I always worry about our parents that are at the lower end of the socio-economic scale and don’t have the background to understand and follow up on these things.”
Rousseau said parents should follow their instincts, as Laura Thomas and Jamie Limon did, and make unannounced visits to the school if they feel something is wrong.
“My philosophy on it is you want to just drop in. I wouldn’t make an appointment; I look at it like day care. You want to drop in, unexpectedly, to see what’s going on.”
Cameras in classrooms
A new state law may help parents of children with special needs keep an eye on classrooms.
In June, in an effort to “promote student safety,” Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law that will force school districts across Texas to install video cameras in special education classrooms, at the request of a parent, trustee or staff member.
The law goes into effect in August 2016.
“I’m really glad that the cameras in special-needs classrooms (legislation) got passed, because I think (problems in my son’s classroom) could have been avoided,” Laura Thomas said.
The cameras are one piece of ongoing changes in the Killeen Independent School District’s special education program.
The district is overhauling the program after it failed to meet Texas Education Agency standards for seven years.
During a board workshop July 28, Diana Miller, Killeen ISD assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, presented a “Special Education Corrective Action Plan,” after a TEA investigation March 3-4, found the district to be noncompliant in its State Performance Plan Indicator 11, which “measures the percentage of children who were evaluated within the state established timeline after receiving informed, written parental consent to evaluate.”
TEA’s preliminary findings, issued July 7, revealed a few causes of the district’s noncompliance. Data integrity, a lack of adequate staffing, and a lack of accountability, among others, were listed in the report. According to PEIMS data submitted to the TEA; 4,802 students were listed as receiving special education services at Killeen ISD during the 2014-2015 school year.
Even as changes are implemented, Rousseau encourages parents to stay involved.
“A lot of times parents will throw in the towel and just say, ‘OK, whatever the school district is doing, we’ll just follow what they say.’ I’m not saying go create problems at every school, but the parent has got to be the advocate. They know their child, they know their special needs, and they know what needs to be done,” Rousseau said.