A Killeen mother is calling for transparency in special-needs classrooms after a case of mother’s intuition led her to uncover “shocking” treatment of special-needs children in her son’s life skills classroom at Iduma Elementary School in the spring.

After witnessing one life skills teacher lose her temper with a child during a field trip, Laura Thomas said she was left with an awful feeling.

“I saw this teacher and aides act terribly to these children. After seeing her yell at a kid who spilled popcorn, I thought this isn’t right and had a really bad feeling.

“That’s when my friend suggested I send a recorder (to school), because you never know how bad it is when you’re not around,” Thomas said. “I’m so glad I did, because I was mortified.”

In March 2014, Thomas and her family moved to Killeen from Colorado Springs, Colo., where they were stationed at Fort Carson. Thomas’ son, a now 6-year-old special-needs student at Iduma Elementary, suffers from a rare condition, schizencephaly, in which he is missing a large portion of the right side of his brain. He is nonverbal but typically has a very pleasant demeanor, Thomas said.

“He’s very happy, he likes to laugh, and he’s usually just happy, bubbly and calm. He likes weird noises and lights and toys,” Thomas said.

“During the time that he went to (Iduma), he was just fussy and he started crying and whining a lot more. We noticed a trend where, instead of using the buttons on his tray, he was just screaming. I didn’t know why he was all of the sudden doing this. What was going on?”

She decided to find out.

Revealing recording

Many special-needs students in Killeen Independent School District are placed in life skills classes instead of regular classrooms.

According to Diana Miller, Killeen ISD assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, a life skills class is instructed by one teacher and two aides and may contain up to 15 students with a wide range of “mild to severe intellectual disabilities.” In this setting, “students have access to academic, adaptive behavior, vocational and social skills opportunities in accordance with the student’s (individual education plan).” “(Life skills) teachers must have a bachelor’s degree and hold a Texas-issued special education teaching certificate.”

In May, in an effort to find out what was happening at school, Thomas said she planted a small recorder in her son’s backpack before school.

To her surprise, her son returned from school with an open backpack and no recorder. A week later, she said, the recorder was returned to her husband, William, during an unrelated meeting with Iduma Elementary Principal Judy Tyson.

All the contents, including other unrelated recordings, were gone, which raised a red flag.

“I knew it would be bad when I found it was all deleted,” Laura Thomas said. “For them to take it, find it, and then give it back to us deleted really pissed me off.”

For $35 she was able to recover 46 minutes of the lost recording through an online program, Wondershare Photo Recovery.

Anger apparent

At minute 34, a teacher and two aides are heard angrily interrogating another child, referred to as Aubrey, about spitting on the table:

“Child: (crying) What do I do?

Teacher: Clean it up. I shouldn’t have to talk to you every day. Go sit down.

Child: (crying)

Teacher: Stop spitting on my table; ain’t nobody got time for that nonsense.

Child: (crying)

Teacher: If you’re going to cry, go to the bathroom until you’re done. I’m not going to listen to it, I don’t listen to my kids cry at home and I’m not going to listen to you.”

“(In the recording), they were just feeding off each other, they were all yelling, and not one of them said this is not OK. I don’t know what happened when they said, ‘Do you want your new name to be pain?’ and then you hear screaming. I thought, ‘Oh, God is she hitting them, pinching?” Thomas said.

Aubrey and her military family have since moved out of the district, she added.

Thomas said she felt lied to when recalling a discussion she had with her son’s teacher the day of the recording.

“(The teacher) said the class had a great day — they obviously did not have a great day. They were screamed at and verbally abused,” Thomas said.

“You see these things on ‘60 Minutes’ and you feel terrible, but it’s not happening to you. When it happens to you, you feel like you’re living in a nightmare,” Thomas said.

On Friday, Killeen ISD Superintendent John Craft released a statement to the Herald in regard to the recording: “The district was notified of the allegation last spring. The matter was investigated at the time and appropriate actions have been initiated. The district is unable to provide specific comment regarding individual students due to protections provided under the law, including the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.”

School district officials were unable to go into detail about what “appropriate actions” they took.

Interactions questioned

It’s not the first time a parent questioned the Iduma life skills class staff’s treatment of special-needs students.

Jamie Limon, whose son was in the class during the 2013-2014 school year, said she also noticed a change in her son while he was attending Iduma.

Gabriel, in first grade at the time, has a condition called chromosomal micro-deletion, which Limon said causes him to have some speech and behavioral issues.

During a fire drill that year, Limon said she noticed the life skills teacher being rough with the students.

“I saw how the aides interacted with the children, how the teacher did. They were just so harsh. They would yank the kids up because some of them would try to touch the grass. There was this one child, in particular, who was constantly running away, trying to elope, and it was obvious they had no behavior plan in place. The teacher was just always restraining him, always holding him,” Limon said.

“They are very rude to these children. I could tell by the way my son’s behavior started changing, he started regressing more. I know it was a direct result of what was going on in that classroom ... we’re still dealing with that today,” said Limon, who has since moved her family out of the district.

Prevent problems

As a new school year nears, the Thomases remain concerned about their son’s situation.

They requested a Child Protective Services investigation into the recording in May, but the results were inconclusive, Laura Thomas said.

“We did file a CPS report but nothing came of it. They interviewed one child, but the child was nonverbal,” she said.

“I was in disbelief,” said William Thomas of the recording. “You don’t talk to anyone that way, much less a kid, and even worse a special-needs child that can’t defend themselves.”

“I can’t imagine; if that was my kid ... I’d be in jail,” he said.

In an email obtained by the Herald, an official at Iduma Elementary said the teacher and aides heard in the recording were “reassigned at a different level.”

“It’s still aggravating,” Thomas said, “It’s not like I just made an accusation; it’s terrible proof. It’s horrifying.

“My husband was so mad. He doesn’t cry easily, but he was horrified.”

William Thomas has served 14 years in the U.S. Air Force, but now said he has considered making a career move.

“We are going to see how things go this new school year, but my commander has said he’ll do whatever is needed to help us move,” he said, even if it adversely affects his career.

“Career progression would be hindered a bit. I’d have to take a step down, or right, or left.”

Laura Thomas wants to make sure nothing like what’s heard on the recording happens again.

“What checks and balances are there to make sure that (staff) are mentally prepared to do this job? I mean it’s hard as a parent, I can’t imagine doing it as a teacher. (The district) needs to make sure (teachers) are mentally prepared to teach kids who are not neurotypical,” Thomas said.

“Other kids in the classroom and their parents need to know that this is going on, this may not be every day, but it shouldn’t be going on at all.”

Parents shouldn’t be afraid to stand up for their children, she said.

“Go with your instinct if you think there’s something wrong. Do your due diligence because you never know what’s going on when other people are with your kids,” Thomas said.

“We’ve had some really great teachers, but obviously it only takes one time to ruin your trust.”

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

(33) comments

schiperno

Preach on "Love Our Planet." I hope you would consider submitting to Mrs. Dodd and sharing your story. I would also love a follow up to this story. I thought it was scary and I am disappointed (yet not suprised) by how KISD handled this case. I strongly believe that KISD should have fired both teachers immediately and think that they didn't merely so they don't have to take full responsibility for what happened. I do not believe the districts actions/decisions were appropriate and Ill bet if this poor boy was a child of the districts staff, those teachers would have been terminated.

Pete

The way KISD runs their Summer School Program is also scandalous.

I told the Board President and KISD Chief of Staff (Barbara Adams) so 10 years ago.

Yet when I checked last year, the Summer School Program is still run on the cheap with a "grant" that school officials say is endangered if a kid who lives hundreds of miles away with her mother needs Summer School also needs to have court ordered summer visitation with their Dad.

Yet they had money to pay for two superintendents because Dr. Chuck felt like working (getting paid) another year (said he was going to help figure out No Child Left Behind). They had $5,000,000.00 for a football stadium renovation. They even had $5,000 to join the "Association of School Districts" and the incoming superintendent said in KDH that this was important (apparently more important than a daughter being able to spend a summer with her Dad and get course credit).

These smart people have so much education that that education must have pushed out the most basic rule, the Golden Rule - Treat others the way you'd like to be treated.

Nope that kid can't sit in a Summer School class because that kid was not enrolled in KISD during the school year. The parent can't even pay for the kid to sit in the class because it would endanger some grant that comes from somewhere to run Summer School. But they have money for all that other stuff above? No the kid can't sit in the class even if there are open seats. No Child Left Behind?

Now with a transient customer base like the military how can this be except that KISD doesn't care about its customers. It is also terrible that a kid has to choose between visiting their Dad or possibly being held behind in their academic progress.

So KISD will pay their lawyer and insurance company friends, but must run Summer School on the cheap with a "Grant". Scandalous. Oh and by the way, not all kids attend summer school cause their "stupid". Family illness and/or economics will also trigger a student's required attendance.

NAACP & LULAC should get involved because the representation of minority students in Summer School makes this an institutional way to discriminate.

Love Our Planet

As a mom with a child who receives speech services through KISD I can definitely attest to the special education system being broken. They move their speech teachers from campus to campus every year. It is very stressful for the kids. My child has had 6 speech teachers since enrolling in the speech services in 2010. It is extremely frustrating for the parents as well. The children with more severe disabilities than just speech delays are affected the most. Some children take most of the school year just to learn to trust their speech teacher enough to start interacting, only to have a new person the next year. How will they ever gain anything this way? It is ridiculous!

I cannot imagine the nightmare these families in the article are going through. I truly hope something is done to correct this situation.

As for the comment about homeschooling, REALLY?! First and foremost no parent should have to home school their child just because the district they live in can't get their act together! Second, most people need to earn a living to keep said home!
Private school is not an option for everybody. They may not have the money for it, or the private school may not have any openings! Public schools should be doing everything they can to ensure our children are getting the best education possible! It's the districts job and in most cases mission statement to do this. Most teachers begin teaching because they want to help and teach the children to the best of their abilities. I've never met a public school teacher say they teach because of the money they make!

schiperno

What's getting really old is the same KISD employees bombarding the forums crying about the unfairness to the district....

I wouldn't be caught dead sticking up for people being caught red-handed bullying disabled children. These are not the teachers that should be protected; This is an example of people teaching that shouldn't be and a district covering it up and redirecting blame. Bottomline- KISD would rather protect these teachers than fire them and accept any blame, and when those teachers are found in a similar situation the district's negligence will be to blame. (Again)

Furthermore, blaming the parents is also despicable. So these parents shouldn't go to work but homeschool because the district is unwilling to educate their children? Ill bet you'd feel differently if your child had special needs. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

And RS, you called that discipline? I don't think any of those children's IEP's included such "discipline" plans. Furthermore, Skills class students don't all have the abilities to need disciplining. Kids in that class with such severe special needs aren't just acting out or "being bad", and they don't need adults mocking and bullying them.

Roger Snow
Roger Snow

This is horrible and ridiculous journalism. This obviously isn't the whole story, but you two—journalists—thought you had something really good here and ran with it, but there is so much missing. For instance, how about the district policy regarding the use of electronic recording devices?

Telecommunications/Electronic Devices (201): "There are certain entertainment
/electronic items (including but not limited to electronic recording devices) which are strictly prohibited from the classroom, but which are subject to principal, director, teacher or sponsor approval in other settings, i.e. cafeterias, commons areas, playgrounds, school buses, or on school-sponsored trips."

The school could have confiscated the device for up to 30 days without approval of the parent(s). Instead, the school most likely decided to delete anything in the recording most about the other students to protect those students not involved and kept the recording with the child involved and then gave it back to the parents. This is just my hypothesis. Now, wouldn't a good journalist find the district policy regarding this and cite it in his or her article? I have and it only took 5 minutes. You two are ridiculous... but hey, look!! We're talking about it! Bad press is good press, right? Enjoy your 15 minutes.

noh8

I'm sure in exchange for following this "policy" the school will treat your children with respect and actually teach instead of bully and ridicule them. Curious that you are quoting school policy instead of actually seeing the problem at hand.....that these teachers are mocking and bullying disabled children. Children who cannot defend themselves. Some of whom probably have speech impediments, so they can't report what is going on in the classroom to their parents. Bravo to this family for protecting their child.

noh8

Also, "enjoy your 15 minutes"? Really??! It's not like they posted a video of something provocative to get attention. They're bring a problem to light. This is why they are now adding cameras to special needs classrooms.

Roger Snow
Roger Snow

I see no issue with how the children were treated. Why is everyone so sensitive these days?? If my kids were acting out and the teachers disciplined them just like this I would have no issue with it. Curious that you're a slave to your emotion instead looking at life with logic, objectivity, and analytical scrutiny. Such sheeple.

abc123

You and I think just alike! It is nice to know that there are still people with common sense in this world. Too many people are out to sue someone and get something without having to work for it. It is pathetic! The media just feeds into the nonsense. If you don't like public school.....homeschool your child or send them to private school. Instead, people keep complaining and sending their kids right back to the same schools. It is ridiculous. I think that I am more horrified that it is so easy to call the media and get your version of a story printed without anyone checking facts and getting the other side of the story. I tell you what, the parents of the little girl mentioned in this recording and story (Aubrey) are the ones that have a legitimate reason to sue and contact the media! Not only did KDH use her name and her voice without permission, they gave all of the details about this classroom and were clear to state that this classroom is a life skills classroom that serves special needs children. YOU CAN'T DO THAT! They have totally violated the FERPA law. I cannot understand why no one is calling them on it! I hope the little girl's parents somehow get a hold of this story and stick it to these two reporters!

Dawn

Sounds like caregiver stress. What kind of training do special needs teachers and aids receive? How many special needs students per teacher ratio is there? How many breaks do special needs teachers and aids receive during the day? Are certain special needs children requiring more care and attention than other kids in the class?
Good for the mom for sending in the tape recorder-she obviously felt defenseless and needed to confirm her thoughts. That recorded information is priceless-even if it can't be used for legal proceedings. It confirmed what mom and dad thought. Replacing the teachers from that classroom is only putting a bandaid on the situation. How long before these teachers get caregiver stress? I don't think increasing pay would fix this situation-training, caregiver education and a plan by the district is needed. Back to the drawing board. Hopefully more is being done by our school district to make the quality of education better. Give these kids some dignity. Sounds like they were being degraded by the stressed out teachers.

bystander

There are a TON of FACTS missing from this article. I wonder why they left out the fact that the Principal's hands are tied in this situation? That she went to her superiors to have the teacher removed from her school and was told she had keep her. Where is the mention of the mediation that took place when CPS became involved? Where is the Principal's side of the story? Where is CPS's side of the story? Where is KISD's side of the story?

Also, the poor me, victim tone of the husband is a load of bull meant soley for sympathy. He won't have to take a step down in his Air Force career, or take a pay cut, or anything else.

It's too easy to write a one sided article for "shock value" rather than gather ALL the FACTS. Can't sell as many newspapers that way can you?

noh8

This family and the others whose children are on the recording have every right to sympathy from the public. What happened in this class room is a disgrace, and it's disgusting. The "other side" to the story is probably not being printed cause it's all about the school and district making strategic moves trying to protect itself and staff from ridicule, law suits, and the media. Funny how the school and district came to the aid of the teachers instead of these poor children. But hey, you keep standing on the wrong side of this story and claim that bullying disabled children is done for "shock value."

Dr Strangelove

In the State of Texas you do need to gain permission to record someone.

Roger Snow
Roger Snow

No, you only the permission from one person involved. If I want to record you, for instance, I'm giving permission to do so. That's all that's needed.

Dr Strangelove

Sorry for the typo In the State of Texas you do NOT need to gain permission to record someone.

Roger Snow
Roger Snow

Oh, okay. I thought that sounded weird because most people don't use "do" without following it with "not." Thanks for the clarification.

abc123

Is it possible that some of the facts of this story are missing???? Something doesn't seem right about it, at all. The article states that the CPS report didn't go anywhere because the results were "inconclusive." What is that???? They either find evidence to keep the case open and further investigate or they find that there isn't a situation that warrants investigating. It seems to me that they must not have found anything to further investigate. As for the audio recording...is that even legal?? I would be HOT if a recording had been put on the internet that had my child's name being used and my child speaking, crying, yelling, or whatever! I would HOPE that KDH got permission from all of the parents that have students in that classroom that could be heard on the audio recording. I don't necessarily think that the teacher used her best discretion when speaking, however, I am curious to why only a part of the recording is posted? Could there be more to the situation that we are not hearing? Do we know the background of what has gone on in this situation? We obviously know the story according to the parents, but we don't know the teacher or KISD's version of what happened. I feel like these reporters have been negligent in their reporting and I feel quite certain that KDH could have a libel situation on their hands. The definition of libel states: a published false statement that is damaging to a person's reputation; a written defamation. I think this story certainly falls under a written defamation. Unless KDH can publish a more detailed report on the initial CPS report, the teacher's version of the events, and a more detailed report/interview with a representative from the district, then I will continue to believe that there are huge holes in this story and that the reporters were looking for a front page story. Using the word "shocking" to describe this story or audio, is actually shocking to me. I really don't feel like there was anything that was overly shocking in this story. What I do find "shocking" is that the parents in this situation have chosen to send their child back to a school that they feel mistreated their child. I can't imagine sending my child back into a situation that I felt was unsafe. That is.....unless I was trying to gain something. I question the parent's motive in this situation. This event happened in May, yet it is just now being turned over to the media???? Again, HUGE HOLES in this story. KDH, I would expect more from a newspaper reporting on their own town's school district. If you want to publish the story, then publish the WHOLE story. Is it that easy to get on the front page of the paper??? Do I just have to call the newspaper and give my version of events that have happened in a situation and the story gets printed?? Is that fair and balanced???

noh8

This family was looking for help back in May (when school releases for the summer btw), but no one wanted to report it cause they didn't want the bad press on the school. Sick right?! Look over the rights of disabled children to protect the town, school, and district. It's so sad. You are absolutely right about getting the parents of the other students on the tape involved. They need to know what happened with their children so that they can sue the school and at the very least have a civil suit brought against the teachers involved.

schiperno

I'd bet my savings account that "IrresponsibleReporting" works for KISD. Talk about re-directing the blame! Let's blame the PARENTS for violating the rights of special need students, but not the teachers! Let's not comment on the attached AUDIO evidence that we should be thankful for!! This was a fantastic article that I have already shared and emailed. Parents in this district need to start sharing these stories. ITS ABOUT TIME. I also want to say Of course KISD KEPT these employees and merely "redirected" their position! If they fired them that would be admitting guilt and KISD would never do such a thing. Given what transpired in that audio it's clear to me why the teachers decided to take and delete that audio and it wasn't for the best interest of any of the children in that class/school/district.

IrresponsibleReporting

Ever hear of FERPA? Did you gain permission from the other children's patents on the recording before making the edited recording available to users and use their name and school in your article? Did the parents gain permission to record those students? Are you aware at all of what their disabilities are before deciding what is "shocking"? No, nor do you have the right to that knowledge. Interesting that the child you identify as "Aubrey" has no parental contact for your article. You think those parents are aware that you are broadcasting their child? Ever consider that the teacher deleted the material to protect the rights and confidentiality of the other students in the room on the recording as opposed to the nefarious intentions implied by the reporting parent? Anyone ever ask the reporting parent what their intentions were and what they are trying to get from the district? Ever think to contact child protective services regarding the case mentioned in the article? Cases aren't closed if inconclusive, they are closed when unfounded. Irresponsible reporting for sensationalism. Good job KDH, good job.

Dr Strangelove

In the State of Texas you do need to gain permission to record someone; so shut up Teacher!

Dr Strangelove

Sorry for the typo In the State of Texas you do NOT need to gain permission to record someone.

noh8

Omg!! You are absolutely right!! Someone needs to find these parents so they can ban together and form a civil suit against these horrible teachers. Ever hear of being a decent human being? Do you really think the teacher erased the recording to protect the rights and confidentiality of her students? No. She did it to protect herself.

Dr Strangelove

I’m sick and tired of people (mainly teachers) saying they don’t get paid enough!

Please do some research on teachers’ pay in the United States. Nationally most teachers K-12 average $45,081 (These are old stats) a year and most teachers only work nine months out of the year. Plus they get paid sick days and vacations! So get out of my face that they don’t get paid enough they get paid well—just shut up!

In this case it’s obvious these teachers have no patience with kids and needs to be fired. As “Whatabouttruth” posted; put video and audio recordings in each classroom it will put a stop to these overpaid teachers.

janetteach

As a retired teacher, I know that the children come first in the classroom. Parents need to be aware of what their children are doing in school. If your child has a stomach ache or is crying before going to school in the morning, something is usually going wrong in the classroom. The parents need to visit the school and can visit the classroom anytime they want to as long as they sign in at the office. If a parent suspects something is amiss, go to the school administration.

schiperno

I agree-- but I can tell you this isn't allowed in many of the KISD schools; Specifically Reece's Creek. They even have a clause prohibiting a parent in their child's classroom. It's also a clause in which they gladly wave when convenient to them.

Whatabouthetruth

These kind of issues can be solved easily by placing video and audio recordings in each classrooms. Although this concept is expensive it will surely make those who mistreat helpless children think before they act or speak.

JohnnyinHarkerHeights

You get what you pay for.

Texas has some of the lowest paid teachers outside of the big cities, and pitiful benefits to boot.

As a result you get a lot of people becoming teachers who can't teach anywhere else, because the better paying jobs with actual, real benefits go to the most qualified candidates.

Of course I know the answer for many in Texas is privatization, and please just go ahead.

All it will do is ensure we hear absolutely nothing about things like this as private companies use the power of privacy to keep the prying press out of their business.

mykids'biggestfan

I don't believe that your statement is correct. If you go to Teacher Portal and search for teacher pay per state, you'll see that Texas is right up there. Combine that with a very reasonable cost of living and Texas is a great place for a teacher to work. My husband graduated with a 3.72 from an awesome school and he has chosen to teach for his career. I don't believe this discussion needs to include blanket statement insults about Texas teachers.

Pete

Too busy doing busy paperwork to cover their behinds to be able walk around and know what is going on. The Educational Industry is big business.

JohnnyinHarkerHeights

And with privatization initiatives it is set to become even more of a business and less of a public institution for educating children.

Proud Mother of an Army Avi8er

As a parent...you are your child's best advocate.

Do not allow any administrator or teacher to intimidate you. If you are concerned, ask questions. If you don't get the answer/response you want, go to their superior...go to the superintendent .

Protect your children...no one loves them more than you!

"Bless the beast and the children...for in this world they have not voice...they have no choice."

Eliza

@ and appropriate actions have been initiated. -----


When I was in school---We had a principal , Mr.. Harris---

It was his job to be aware of what the kids became involved in BUT also his teachers too.
They never new when Mr. Harris would suddenly appear as he was just taking a walk through HIS building.

We have supervisors in organizations such as described,
Supervisions need to supervise again. And just appear on the scene.

They can't be best buddies with those they work with but, there to make certain that the children involved, are getting a fair and just education that the Tax Payer is led to believe they are getting, without the child being harassed.

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