For several months, the Daily Herald has reported on issues between parents and Killeen Independent School District officials regarding education for special-needs students.

The Texas Education Agency had investigated the district in March and found services were delayed for special education students over the last seven years.

The reasons, TEA said, were no uniform system to track student evaluations, inner-office conflicts and faulty data. School officials announced the investigation at a board meeting in July and parents have made further complaints since the announcement.

At the heart of the issue are the children, who are trying to fit in and make friends, as well as get an education. The Daily Herald asked parents to tell us a little about their children and their hopes for the school experience.

  • Marcus Garvin, age 5
  • Grade: Kindergarten
  • School: Reeces Creek Elementary
  • Disability: Global developmental delays, seizure disorder, hypotonia, chromosome abnormality and cerebral palsy.

Marcus is an “easygoing, social butterfly,” who has special needs due to his cerebral palsy, said mother Angela Garvin. “He has an amazing infectious smile. I call him our little Wal-Mart greeter, because he will really stand there at the store and wave ‘hi’ to everybody.”

The Garvin family moved to the district when they were awarded a free home from the Military Warrior Support Foundation in November. Garvin said she had looked forward to starting a new life for her family in their “forever home” in Killeen.

After two weeks at Reeces Creek Elementary School, Garvin said, she pulled her son out of school.

Marcus doesn’t speak, but his mother said she knew something was off by his behavior. “He’s so happy, and it was a fight to get him out the door to go to school,” Garvin said.

Garvin said she wishes better for the students who remain.

“The definition of hope is: a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. I hope that the district would put themselves in our shoes for a brief moment. See that we only want what every child in America is entitled to, a free appropriate public education.”

  • Samantha Moody, age 5
  • Grade: Prekindergarten
  • School: Reeces Creek Elementary School
  • Disability: Severe apraxia, a speech disorder, motor planning disorder and ADHD.

“Samantha is a really happy, easygoing child who has completed our family,” said mother Stephanie Moody. “Samantha idolizes her big brother Stephen and is an avid Lego builder.”

Moody said her daughter’s disabilities have not been effectively addressed in recent years and said she is exhausted by the fight.

“Yesterday was our 11th ARD (Admission, Review and Dismissal) meeting since November 2014,” she said.

Moody said she hopes to see real change at Killeen ISD next year.

“I want to see that Killeen ISD educates general education teachers on how to spot special education signs and how to start the evaluation process for children who are in need of services,” she said.

  • Rafe Thomas, age 6
  • Grade: First
  • School: Iduma Elementary School
  • Disability: Schizencephaly, a rare brain disorder.

“Rafe is a fighter, he doesn’t give up very easily,” said mother Laura Thomas. “He’s stubborn in a great way.” Thomas said Rafe loves being outdoors.

“Being outside makes Rafe happy, he loves going for bike rides and swimming,” Thomas said.

Thomas said she wants handicapped accesible playground equipment at Iduma and other schools for those children, such as Rafe, who need wheelchairs but still want to play.

“Most of the year, kids go out for recess and Rafe has nothing to do because they do not have handicap accessable equipment,” Thomas said. “He wants to do what other kids do, and he’s nonverbal and he can’t tell you, ‘Hey, I want to go play.’ It was sad that I had to bring it up, because those are things that everybody could benefit from as well.”

  • Timmera Griffin, age 16
  • Last KISD grade: Ninth, at Shoemaker High School
  • Current school: 11th grade at Killeen Charter Academy
  • Disability: Autism, Intellectual Disability, ADHD.

“Timmera’s love and attention to little kids and her smile is what I find most endearing,” said her mother, Karen Griffin. “She also loves music and anything that is related to Paris.

“Timmera’s most difficult experience happened in ninth grade,” Griffin said. “That entire year she was bullied by one specific student and his friends. This student would cut her hair, tease her, and just make her afraid to be in class. It got worse after a student pulled a chair out from under her, and she hit her head on a desk behind her. She suffered a concussion and it took her a year to come back semi-preconcussion. To this day she still suffers from memory loss and has regressed.”

Although her daughter is no longer in the district, Griffin said she still would like to see progress and change for other special needs children.

“Next year I hope the district communicates more, takes medical diagnosis seriously and gives appropriate goals,” she said. “That would be nice.”

  • Jessie Brandner, age 9
  • Grade: Third
  • School: Brookhaven Elementary School
  • Disability: Nystagmus, deemed legally blind by the state.

“Jessie’s heart is full of love and music,” said mother Dena Brandner. “She loves singing and playing the Wii U.”

Jessie needs large print in order to keep up with homework, Brandner said. It took four years, Brandner said, before Jessie received the large-print accommodation.

“Thankfully, she’s receiving large print now,” Brandner said. “Next, I will work to make sure Jess gets longer test times.”

  • Austin Davis, age 21
  • Grade: 12th
  • School: Ellison High School
  • Disability: Autism.

Austin loves to interact with people, said his mother, Sallie Davis.

His second love, she said, is music.

“He loves to listen to music, especially live bands,” Davis said.

“Getting the services he is entitled to has been a struggle his whole school life,” Davis said. “The latest issue that has been going on for the past 4-5 years is the total lack of transition planning and related vocational training. For our son, it is too late. This is his last year.”

  • Wesley Hughes, age 14
  • Grade: Ninth
  • School: Shoemaker High School
  • Disability: Autism, presently nonverbal.

Wesley’s most endearing traits, his mother Valerie Hughes said, are his “eagerness to learn, to be included with his neurotypical peers, and his hugs of appreciation.”

Wesley loves music, basketball, Facebook, playing his piano and traveling, she said.

Middle school was difficult for Wesley, his mother said. Sixth grade was the first and only time he went to a school in the family’s school zone, she said, and the neighborhood kids were nice to him. The years that followed were increasingly difficult.

“It was initially a great experience,” Hughes said. “My son has regressed very badly.”

Hughes’ hopes for the future are for simple things, some small tasks that many parents may take for granted.

“I want him to be given an opportunity to be a high school student,” she said. “To go to the cafeteria and pick out his food, swipe his card, eat in the cafeteria with his peers, be in a class where there is spoken language with other students. Our children are very smart; we need to find a way to help them so they can learn. Communication is the key.”

  • McKenzie Paine, age 12
  • Grade: Seventh
  • School: Patterson Middle School
  • Disability: Intellectual disability, speech impairment, PDD.

“McKenzie is a pretty, blue-eyed, bubbly girl, who loves to sing and dance,” said her mother, Dianna Paine. “She loves her iPad, books and her bike.”

Seeking a better alternative for McKenzie, Paine said, she tried private school.

“Earlier this year we tried putting McKenzie in a private school that incorporated all her therapies in with her schooling,” she said. “Unfortunately, financially this was taking a toll and have had to put her back in public school system, which means she will go back to missing time away from school to get therapy. This has been pretty routine for her, she misses a lot of school.”

In the future, Paine said, she hopes her daughter will not have to miss as much school time due to much needed therapy.

“My hope for Killeen ISD is to work with the children’s providers for ABA, speech, OT & PT in allowing them to come into the school to work with them in their setting instead of a clinical setting.”

  • Devon Flores, age 20
  • Grade: 12th
  • School: Harker Heights High School
  • Disability: Traumatic brain injury due to brain cancer.

“His hugs are the best,” mother Roxanne Flores Achmad said. “I love his laugh.” Devon, like most young adults, most enjoys spending time with his friends, she said.

Achmad said her experience has been a positive one, yet one that required a lot of research and follow-up.

In the future, Achmad said, it would be helpful for the district to put together a guide for parents new to the world of special education.

“They need to create a manual for the parents in an Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARD) meeting,” she said. “The acronyms and terms they use, the parent may not understand. I ended up doing my own research on my own to understand what they would talk about.”

  • Karissa Griffin, age 4
  • Grade: Prekindergarten
  • School: Reeces Creek
  • Disability: Speech and sensory processing disorder.

“Karissa is easygoing and determined, a very independent little girl,” said mother Karen Griffin. Karissa most loves to play with her Disney princesses Elsa and Anna.

This is Karissa’s first year in school and Griffin said she adjusted fairly well. However, by the second quarter, she said she noticed changes in Karissa.

“Communication with her teacher has stopped and our daughter can no longer tell us what she learned throughout the day. She comes home stressed and has a look of pure exhaustion.”

In the future, Griffin said she is asking for more communication and in a timely manner.

  • Nevaeh Westmoreland, age 5
  • Grade: Kindergarten
  • School: Trimmier Elementary
  • Disability: Autism, ADHD

“Nevaeh is very loving, energetic, fearless, and has an amazing imagination,” her mother Kristy Ehrenheim said.

“Currently, she loves her stuffed animals, playing with any and all animals, pets, and doing equine therapy.”

Her first year in a regular class has been a tough one, Ehrenheim said.

Ehrenheim said her daughter lacks an understanding of what is going on in class and that additional educational services may be the answer to her problems.

“I hope next year that the additional services needed will be provided to the fullest extent and that the school is able to find adequate ways to help her follow through with her work,” she said. “I fear that she has fallen far behind her peers.”

  • Ethan Fisher, age 4
  • Grade: Prekindergarten
  • School: Montague Village Elementary
  • Disability: ADHD.

“Ethan is very loving and imaginative,” said mother Gayle Fisher. “Ethan loves animals, especially tigers and jaguars. He especially loves learning.”

After one semester, Fisher said, she has noticed a troubling pattern at school.

“Ethan was having trouble transitioning to his new environment, and it was manifesting in bad behavior,” said Fisher. She said Ethan often receives in-school suspension.

“I am hoping for a better second half of the school year,” she said. “I hope with the further evaluations we have requested, Ethan will have better supports in place and his teachers will have the tools they need to help him stay in the classroom.”

  • Drake Fieseler, age 6
  • Grade: Kindergarten
  • School: Iduma Elementary School
  • Disability: Apraxia, anxiety, sensory processing disorder.

“Drake is an extremely caring child,” said mother Maggie Fieseler. “He loves to make sure everything is OK with everyone around him. He is very smart, but with his issues he is stuck in his head often.

“He loves paw patrol, playing Pokemon cards, video games and playing with his sister. He is obsessed with drones.”

So far, Fieseler said, his school has refused to acknowledge anxiety as an educational issue.

“So he has no support at school when he has anxiety attacks,” she said. “I would love to see that change in the future. We have been lucky the last two years in that he has had amazing teachers who have made exceptions for him. I would love his future to not include being held back a grade.”

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

(3) comments

kempnergal

I have been reading and watching ever since this topic and in this day and age I just cannot believe that his school district is still situated in the dark ages when it comes to special needs children and students and I can actually stand with each and everyone of these parents when it comes to their child, their disability and to their education and keeping in mind at the same time that no matter one's disability all children are to be treated as an equal for one and to be taught like that as of a regular student but with limitations and restrictions that enable them to be educated in the manner in with they either might be able to be taught and to stop trying to educate the disability. I had a physically disabled child a student in the Chicago, Illinois school district he had Duchene Muscular Dystrophy a physical only problem however his school district and his teachers back from the very beginning of his young years 1979 thru graduation 1991 two years before graduation in 1993 I had to fight for him and his rights and in the end he and I won this battle. He was tagged as being retarded, slow, or we do not know how to teach him because of his disability I replied every new school term what do you mean? well he is listed as special needs I never taught special needs students before so how do I teach your son and get him to understand and I just looked at the teacher and said well please teach him like you teach your other students it was then I found out that in his school record he had been listed with out my knowledge by the special education team after an interview without him nor myself he was listed as slow lack of motor skills and retarded at my request I asked for complete copies of his student file and was granted this after being allowed to look at it in person to be sure no one was hiding anything else from me and took it to his Doctor to go over he was floored and submitted a document stating his patients medical diagnosis and that he showed no evidence of mental defect and my son's current IQ test by this time my son was 16 years of age he scored on the high end, he was a bight young man and became a craftsman working with his hands building nice projects with his hands and such. I went back with the documents and there was a meeting with the school board, special education staff and his teachers about my son and how I felt that due to everyone's lack of information for one and by creating name tags and adding them to my son and to his school record and tagging his for so many years that they all allowed him to fall through the cracks and let him down and if they did that to him then how many other's have they done this too and are still doing this too or will continue on doing it too was my question. All of those years were lost and upsetting years for my son a little boy who called himself stupid who lacked self esteem and never seemed happy for a number of years no matter how hard I worked to try and change his out look then one day it took two teachers that took that boy under their wings when no others would not when others told him no you cannot do this or that you are too disabled or your disability means your a high risk for us heck he was in a powered wheel chair all he ever wanted was to be treated like a regular person a regular child and student and for years he never had this with this school district seems unfair but those two shop teachers that took my son under their wings during his Junior and Senior years of high school gave his his wings to soar and soar indeed he did, he was a changed young man so full of good spirits and those teachers saw his talents in the craft of taking a piece of wood and making something of use and beauty out of it, he continued on with drafting and auto cad and I was on my way of sending my son off to a school for engineering but even the best made plans never really work out and he went off to heaven before his 22nd birthday almost 20 years ago now. I hope things will change for this district and all others. Yes I took the district to court and settled out of court not to sling their names through their own mud it settled after my son's death and I donated all the money to an agency for children in need in my son's name.

schiperno

This was a beautiful article. After reading this online I shared the article and went out and bought the paper so I cold have a copy to keep. These beautiful kids deserve an education better than what's being offered to them. When will someone other than KDH news take notice?

kempnergal

I wanted to just say thank you for the kind comment you made about my article. I only write about what events happened in my late sons life and it was not an easy one after he started attending school, every avenue seemed to just close on him except me, as his Mom I knew I had to fight and stand up for him since no one else would. His small voice went unheard for so many years. My son was just a regular kid that had a physical disability he needed to be educated as any other child and not to be out casted or tagged as so many school and agencies do, same goes for the special needs school bus transportation services. Pick up my child deliver him to school and back home safe and sound and keep your minds to yourself when it comes to the kids on those buses they all have other reasons for being there.

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