KISD vs Moody 2.jpg

Stephanie Moody says she hopes the case against KISD makes a difference. From left to right are Samantha Moody, Stephanie Moody, Stephen Chiperno and Joshua Moody.

One family intends to take the Killeen Independent School District to federal court after what an attorney termed a “dangerous decision” was handed down in favor of the school district Monday.

In 2019, Stephanie Moody filed a formal complaint against Killeen ISD with the Texas Education Agency — and won — after she said the district failed to recognize her daughter’s two critical diagnoses, autism and an auditory disorder, and did not provide the correct special education services.

Little changed at KISD for Moody, even after the state education agency sided in her favor, which led her to take the issue back to court and, eventually, move her children out of the district all together in 2020.

“There was a compliancy plan put in place, and I was under the impression that meant we (TEA) were going to make them become compliant,” Moody said Monday. “I honestly never understood why I was responsible to pay to take this to court after winning the TEA complaint.”

Moody’s daughter was diagnosed with autism by a medical doctor and personnel with the Belton Independent School District — something KISD had been unwilling to do during her daughter’s time with the district. But Monday, after four hearings of testimony, a hearing officer opted to side with the school district.

“So, basically, the hearing officer made factual findings that the school did not identify Samantha as having autism, but that was okay; and that they did not really collaborate with the parent, but that was okay,” Moody’s attorney, Sonja Kerr with Connell Michael Kerr, LLP, said about the hearing officer’s decision Monday. “It’s a very dangerous decision. I’ve been practicing in this area of law for 34 years and this is one of the most dangerous decisions a hearing officer has ever issued.”

Stephanie Moody told the Herald Monday that she will file a lawsuit in her daughter’s case.

“I feel like I am ready to move forward in federal court,” she said. “We keep failing kids with special needs, we keep telling them it’s going to be fixed, and I don’t see that happening.”

The school district issued the following statement on the matter Monday.

“Killeen ISD will continue affording students a free and appropriate public education,” KISD’s Chief Communications Officer Taina Maya said in an email. “The district hopes that the hearing decision today resolves the matters set forth.”

What happened?

In August, four special education due process hearings were held, at which time Moody and KISD presented witness testimony, exhibits and arguments.

Ian Spechler, an attorney who is a Special Education Hearing Officer for the State of Texas, issued his 25-page ruling on this case Monday.

“The Hearing Officer concludes that the district provided student a FAPE during the 2019-20 school year,” according to the ruling. “The Hearing Officer also finds that the district complied with its ... responsibilities under the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).”

Spechler denied any relief to the family of Samantha Moody and dismissed Moody’s claims under IDEA. The ruling states it may be appealed in court, which the family said they intend to do.

“The decision of the Hearing Officer in this cause is a final and appealable order,” according to Spechler’s ruling. “Any party aggrieved by the findings and decisions made by the hearing officer may bring a civil action with respect to the issues presented at the due process hearing in any state court of competent jurisdiction or in a district court of the U.S.”

Kerr said that the issue at hand goes far beyond the Moody family, having an impact on hundreds of thousands of special-needs students across the state.

“Even though the State of Texas had found this school had violated the law in its complaint from 2019, the school district did not have to do anything to compensate the student for that violation,” Kerr said. “So, this means that complaints to the State of Texas are also effectively meaningless. Most parents will just give up and not bother with a state complaint or a due process hearing. Instead, they will move to other school districts, or other states.”

Children with disabilities are entitled to have access to a FAPE, under IDEA. As part of that law, all public school districts are required to provide an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for every special-education student.

Stephanie Moody claims the district did not correct the deficiencies in her daughter’s IEP that were identified during a 2019 TEA investigation.

During the hearings, the district maintained that its IEPs were appropriate, and the hearing officer agreed in his ruling Monday.

“Student had a number of privately and publicly funded evaluations and the district followed the recommendations from those evaluations,” Spechler wrote in his ruling.

Kerr said this decision, if left as it stands, will have a lasting impact on students and families across the state.

“What happens in states where the state education agency is acting like a leader is the state agency would react to this and say, ‘This isn’t right,’” Kerr said before adding Texas is lacking leadership at the state education agency.

“If they (TEA) let this go, then they might as well close their complaint division because no district in the state is going to worry with getting a complaint against them.”

ldodd@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7567

(2) comments

Jnette23

I am a parent of special needs child and KISD has messed with my mental and physical health for the past 2 years! I have held 5 ARD meetings only because everyone that I needed to talk to was there and get communication on what they were working on and how to get some goals met. Brookhaven had my child doing the most childish school work where you know a teachers aide completed it and 1 month at his new school he is reading books, expressing emotions, etc but he missed so much last year and we are still waiting for speech and OT to get started and transportation is a complete joke! Previous post said it right I think I need social media, news, newspaper, to do full investigations!! What KISD is actually saying is they Provide Free Daycare for everyone and all children are the same..smh

Blax

As a parent if 2 Spec. Ed kids I completely empathize with what this poor family has gone through. Every year I have to fight for my kids services & rights. Every year I have to be a watchman on making sure the school follows our IEP. About every other year I have to threaten a lawsuit. Schools do not 'offer' services that they know/see these kids need. As a parent, you have to bring them outside diagnosis' and testing and DEMAND district testing and then research & fight for those services, nothing is 'offered'. They make the whole process, for kids whose difficulties are not obvious, extremely difficult. It's truly sad that the entity that is supposed to e(be smart) and educate our kids are so ignorant and intolerant of kids who have challenges! They have NO critical thinking - which must be why it isn't taught anymore. TEA is the joke of the nation.

I hope this family sues and wins. The only way we are heard is to get it out over social media and the news. Otherwise, the grievance process falls on deaf ears.

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