AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas schools must get their act together — and fast. The directive came out Thursday, after federal investigators confirmed at least tens of thousands of Texas students were denied Special Education programs.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos says every child with a need must have access to services that meet his or her unique needs. Governor Greg Abbott went a step further, saying not only did school districts fail in their duty, but the Texas Education Agency didn’t hold districts accountable. The head of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) Mike Morath said they will address this, and quickly.
KXAN sat down with a parent taking legal steps to hold Austin ISD accountable herself. Nidia Heston said she’s encouraged to hear the federal and state push for more resources, after she filed suit against AISD this week. The lawsuit states the district had a duty to provide her middle school son staff capable of dealing with his special needs, yet failed to do so.
Sitting in her living room, Heston pointed to a painting her now 15-year-old son did just two weeks before he was hurt.
“He added this black outline and then stood back and said now it’s now complete,” she said of the line around the stomach area of an otherwise colorfully painted owl.
It’s a picture that’s now more clear in Heston’s mind, saying it illustrates the internal struggle of her then 13-year-old son.
“This is how he was feeling that entire time at school,” she said. “With his diagnosis of autism, that’s really tenfold-ly difficult than just a child who’s entering adolescence and in middle school.”
Heston’s son also has bipolar disorder and found within AISD, he didn’t have the proper support. Between trying to hurt himself at school, his anger at home during that time, and Heston’s gut instinct as a mother, she decided to call a meeting with the school.
“This is happening, it’s not working, what can we do differently? And five days later he was hurt,” Heston recalled.
The lawsuit states Heston was aware the teaching assistant “was not the correct person to work with her son and complained to staff on numerous occasions, requesting a change, but to no avail.”
The suit went on to say it should come as no surprise that the TA “grew especially impatient on one occasion and threw a garbage pail” at her son’s face and mouth, “causing significant injury to his teeth, face and smile.”
The suit says the TA then resigned from her position.
Heston says when she arrived at the school after getting a phone call, “I was confused, I said ‘You’re talking about a student, right?’ And she goes ‘No, it was a TA.’ And I said ‘The TA that we just met about?’ And she nodded. And after that, honestly, I don’t remember.”
Heston said with filing the suit, “Our primary goal is that the culture within public school systems again view kids as individuals. See every kid as an individual. And would really look to maximize each individual child. Their abilities, their interests, their mental and emotional well-being.”
Alonzo Campos, one of Heston’s attorney’s, told KXAN the suit is about accountability and ensuring this doesn’t happen to other families who place trust in the district when they drop their children off at school.
AISD says it’s not able to comment on this particular case because of pending litigation, but says the district is “committed to educating children of all abilities” and will “continue working closely with TEA to meet standards outlined for Texas students with special needs.”
Heston wanted to share the following resources that are available to parents of special needs children: