About 120 parents, educators and district administrative officials attended a forum on special education Tuesday, hearing from experts on ways to better advocate for special-needs children in and out of the classroom.

In response to community concerns in the area of special education, the Killeen Daily Herald partnered with Austin-based The Cuddy Law Firm with the goal of educating the community on an often-confusing topic.

Advocate Debra Liva offered advice for parents on how to maneuver through special ed evaluations, meetings, and red tape.

“Parents you know — if that red flag pops up — if it doesn’t look good, doesn’t sound good ... it probably isn’t good,” Liva said.

“I’m not anti-school district but I am pro-child,” she said. “Parents, you are an equal partner to the (admission, review and dismissal) meeting. You are not just mom or dad, you are an equal partner.”

Cuddy Law Firm founder and managing partner Anthony Cuddy spoke to the audience about the “crisis” in Killeen and what legal avenues are available.

“Many of you might agree there is a crisis in Killeen,” Cuddy said to applause. “Let me tell you, there are 5,924 crises in Killeen. This is a crisis for every special education child in the district that is not getting the free appropriate public education that they are entitled to.”

He told the audience that unlike the rest of the country, Texas has a limited window of time — one year — when a parent can file a claim.

“Parents are the little attorney generals that have the ability to enforce the special education laws for their child. Without the parent, no lawyer can take any action. You need to be that little attorney general for your child’s rights,” he said.

Noel Candelaria, president of the Texas State Teachers Association, turned the focus away from the district and onto state and federal public education funding disparities. Without proper funding, he said, school districts often cannot properly staff campuses with the qualified educators needed to educate special-needs children.

“We all have a responsibility to hold each other accountable to ensure that our children — who are the future of our community — have what they need. When we all work together with the child’s best interest at heart, we can do great things for every child.”

After an in-depth critical look of the school district’s “low-trust behaviors” in response to the special education “crisis,” Killeen Educators Association President Richard Beaule reminded the audience that a vote is often all it takes to create change.

“To our friends in the community who are here tonight — you are the ultimate deciders of right and wrong. Your tools for doing so are your presence, your voice, and perhaps most importantly, your vote.”

Following the forum speakers, guests had the opportunity to voice concerns and ask questions.

District officials, including Superintendent John Craft and interim Special Education Director Diana Miller, were in the audience along with many other district representatives, to listen to concerns, but not to offer comment.

“KISD doesn’t offer anything for my children so they go to private school and we pay our mortgage each month in tuition for them to do so,” said Teresa Mott, a former Killeen ISD educator and mother of two autistic children, about her frustrations with the district.

“I just want the school district to hear us — there’s nothing for (autistic children). Out of all the special education children, the biggest population of them are autistic; why isn’t there anything for them? You’re not arming teachers with what they need.”

Almost a dozen other parents asked questions of the panel on advocating for their special-needs child, including specific questions regarding the legality of a variety of special education situations in the district.

Contact Lauren Dodd at ldodd@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7568

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