Cuddy Law Firm PLLC, one of a handful of law firms in Texas that focuses on special education matters, weighed in Tuesday with an analysis of the Killeen Independent School District special education audit.
Sonja Kerr, director of impact litigation for the firm, attended the KISD board meeting Monday night when the audit was presented to the board.
Kerr and three other Texas special education attorneys commented in a news release from Cuddy, which represents some special education students who reside in the Killeen school district.
The advocates said they urge the Texas Education Agency and Killeen ISD to take “swift and immediate steps” to improve the services to children with disabilities by designing an action plan with concrete steps and firm deadlines, according to the release.
The Killeen Independent School District had released the audit completed by Gibson Consulting on Friday. Cuddy Law Firm highlighted four findings in the recently released special education audit:
Killeen ISD lacks sufficient staffing in key areas, including staff who evaluate students for special education and staff who provide direct services to students, especially students with behavioral needs.
Killeen ISD is excessively retaining students. The retention rate of first-graders and ninth-graders is especially high. The retention rate is higher than the state average in every grade from K-8.
Killeen ISD is sending excessive numbers of special education students to more restrictive disciplinary alternative programs.
Killeen ISD lacks consistent use of data to determine if individual children are progressing in their special education programs.
The entire 110-page report is available at www.cuddylawfirm.com.
“Sadly, the report confirms anecdotal information that we hear repeatedly from parents in the District,” Kerr said. “While we appreciate that KISD had the audit conducted, we have yet to see a detailed plan of action or even a time line for such a plan to fix the system and compensate those children affected over the years.”
Kerr also said the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act places the responsibility on the Texas Education Agency to take action if a district cannot or will not fulfill its obligations.
“We are watching closely to see what steps TEA will take to ensure children with disabilities receive the services that they so desperately need and remedies for years of lost services,” she said.
Other advocacy groups also expressed concern Tuesday.
“Unfortunately, this audit does nothing more than spell out what parents, lawyers and advocates in the community have observed for years,” said Sharon Ramage of the Ramage Law Group. “It is especially concerning that KISD’s first step is to hire a special education director who is neither experienced nor certified in special education. KISD has a history of failing to meet the needs of its disabled students. It now has the opportunity to turn things around and make education better for students with disabilities. Let’s hope KISD does not let the opportunity pass the students by.”
David Beinke, Director of Advocacy for Cirkiel and Associates, agreed.
Beinke said he has observed ongoing issues in Killeen ISD for more than a decade.
Dorene Philpot, special education attorney, said: “Having litigated numerous special education cases statewide, I believe that Killeen ISD is actually doing worse by its special education students than even some of the most historically deficient school districts, such as Beaumont ISD.”