One of the five candidates running in the May 10 election to become a Killeen Independent School District board member is waging a legal battle with the district in federal court.
Court records show Lan Carter’s Austin attorney asked a federal court in Waco to appeal the decision of an independent hearing officer regarding special education services for one of Carter’s children.
The appeal, which was filed March 31 in Waco, is the latest action taken by Carter in a back-and-forth battle with the district that’s lasted nearly four years.
The district has yet to file a response with the court over Carter’s appeal, which seeks that the hearing officer’s decisions be overturned, and that the court grant court costs, attorney’s fees and any “additional relief as the court may deem just, proper and appropriate.”
According to court documents, the legal wrangling began in 2010, when Carter, a former teacher in Copperas Cove, began the process of trying to get Killeen ISD to provide special education services for one of her children. Carter and her attorney alleged the district failed to identify the child’s eligibility for special education in a timely manner and failed to provide the necessary services for a “free and appropriate” public education as the law requires.
The dispute made its way through multiple hearings and meetings between Carter, her lawyer and representatives of the district. In October 2012, Carter enrolled the child in a private school. She has another child attending a Killeen ISD school.
An independent hearing officer from the Texas Education Agency held a final hearing in October. Carter made the same claims, including asking that tuition and other costs be reimbursed. Such reimbursement is allowed by law if it can be proved the district is not able to provide a “free and appropriate” education.
The hearing officer sided with the district on all claims, prompting the appeal at the federal level.
“There was no money to be gained, only reimbursement of what I had already spent on attorney fees and private school,” Carter wrote in a statement on her campaign website posted last month. “I actually lost thousands of dollars as the hearing officer ruled in the district’s favor. Would I do it again? Most definitely, it’s the principle of the matter. Hopefully, both parties learned something from this experience, I know I did.”
Killeen ISD officials would not comment on the case Friday, other than to confirm the pending litigation.
Conflict of interest
The lawsuit does not preclude Carter from serving as a Killeen ISD board member, her attorney said. “It’s her right,” Yvonnilda G. Muniz told the Herald Friday.
But Texas law and Killeen ISD both have policies in place to deal with possible conflicts of interest.
Muniz said Carter, if elected, would have to recuse herself from discussions or votes in connection with her appeal.
Carter would not be the first board member to step aside from an issue to avoid a potential conflict. Board member JoAnn Purser, who owns a construction company, stepped out of proceedings related to discussions and votes on property within the district. Board member Susan Jones, who works for Extraco banks, also recused herself on votes related to the district’s dealing with the bank.
“I would like to believe that I have the maturity and intelligence to conduct myself in an impartial manner regarding KISD issues,” Carter wrote in the statement on her website. “I’ve been open and honest about my concerns with KISD. This district is my ‘home’ and I want to be a part of making it greater.”