HUTTO, Texas (KXAN) – Nearly two years after being charged with unlawfully restraining a student with severe autism, the Hutto Independent School District’s director of special education pleaded no contest to failing to properly report the incident as a part of a plea deal, according to prosecutors.
The Williamson County Attorney’s Office waived the unlawful restraint and assault charges against Director Stacie Koerth and district employee Karen Perez on Sept. 12 as a part of that deal. Both educators are required to complete 40 hours of community service, 18 hours of training related to non-verbal and Autistic populations and complete a Texas Department of Family and Protective Services course on abuse and neglect of a child.
This arrangement comes after a mistrial was declared in the case. The jury who heard more than a week of testimony was deadlocked with three jurors voting guilty and three voting not guilty on the charges against Koerth.
Hutto ISD said both Koerth and Perez are still employed in the district.
“We are pleased to know that this legal matter is behind them. The school district has maintained support for both of these employees throughout this legal matter,” Hutto ISD Superintendent Dr. Celina Estrada said.
Koerth and Perez were accused of forcing a non-verbal 17 year old into a jumpsuit at Hutto High School in November 2018, according to court records.
The two testified the jumpsuit was meant to prevent the student from getting into his pants, which was a growing concern for staff at the school.
Four special education employees and a private nurse testified the student could be heard screaming down the hallways, bit himself and tried to crawl out of the bathroom where Koerth and Perez were trying to get him to put on and stay in the jumpsuit.
Koerth and Perez testified the behavior was expected, because they were “changing his routine.”
The victim’s father also testified in defense of the teachers, saying he did not believe the two were trying to hurt his son.
State prosecutors said the two employees tampered with government documents when they failed to check to report the restraint in their paperwork.
Educators are required to document restraints, whether it is lawful or not, for state record keeping.
“We must never assume those entrusted to protect students do so simply, because it is part of their job description,” Assistant County Attorney Laura Gorman said. “Our hope is the prosecution of this unfortunate incident will serve to encourage others to shed light on improper actions taken behind closed doors.”
Part of this incident was recorded on the hallway cameras at Hutto High School. Still, the majority of the incident was not captured due to the lack of surveillance cameras in the special education classrooms.
Even in the years after the criminal investigation into this incident, Hutto ISD did not place cameras in these same rooms. District officials said parents did not request cameras.
The attorney representing Koerth and Perez did not respond to an email requesting a comment on the plea deal.