ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — A new federal civil rights lawsuit filed by a former student’s family claims the Round Rock Independent School District has a pattern of losing students and leaving them.
Candy Ivette Mendoza and her fiance, David Ortega, said they pulled their seven-year-old daughter from Teravista Elementary after staff members repeatedly kept putting her on a bus when she should have stayed on campus for the after-school program.
“The Teravista Elementary School lost my child not just one time, but it happened four different times,” Mendoza said at a press conference Wednesday.
The lawsuit filed by attorneys Martin Cirkiel and Daniel Garza particularly singled out an incident that happened on the cold afternoon of Dec. 14, 2018.
On that day, Mendoza said the school sent her daughter home alone instead of keeping her at the after-school program as planned. The lawsuit stated a substitute bus driver “not familiar with the children or the route” dropped off the girl, and she walked home.
Mendoza said both she and her fiance were out of town at the time. One of them planned to be back by 5 p.m. to pick up their daughter from school. No “trusted neighbors” were around either, the lawsuit stated.
“She was left alone in the cold,” Mendoza said. “And she was crying and screaming for help.”
Prior to this incident, the complaint stated the school put the seven-year-old girl on a bus three times instead of keeping her at the after-school program. The lawsuit does not give specific dates for those incidents. Instead, it stated that they allegedly happened in fall 2017, September and October 2018.
During those three times, the lawsuit claimed that the regular school bus driver did not see the girl’s mother waiting to pick her up at the bus stop, so she took the girl back to Teravista Elementary.
Tina Fausett, the transportation director for Round Rock ISD, previously told KXAN that that’s usually how those kinds of situations are handled.
“Our process on that is to take them as soon as we can, depends on our route, back to the campus,” Fausett explained. “They’re safe from the time they get on until they get back to the campus.”
Mendoza, however, said that incident in December “traumatized” her daughter.
“She was a very happy child,” Mendoza said. “After all of this happened, she refused to go to school. She would throw up on herself because she didn’t want to go to school.”
Mendoza said she decided to approach attorneys about this issue after becoming frustrated from the previous meetings she had with administrators and teachers. She said the principal at Teravista Elementary told her twice that, “Things like this happen from time to time.”
The family’s attorneys argued in the lawsuit that Round Rock ISD violated the girl’s “substantive constitutional rights of life, liberty, privacy, bodily integrity and happiness, all pursuant to the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment for liberty.”
“You have the right to bodily integrity, to be safe when you’re at school,” Garza further explained at the press conference Wednesday. “By taking a child and basically leaving them, not having them supervised, violates that.”
A spokesperson for the Round Rock ISD sent a statement addressing this lawsuit:
“We don’t generally comment on a lawsuit we haven’t received, and are unable to speak specifically to the situation due to FERPA, but are aware of the claim. The safety of our students is our first priority, and that includes during the transportation of students before and after school hours. If issues do present themselves, we take immediate corrective matters to address them. Again, we aren’t able to speak to specifics, but what we can share is that statements made pre-litigation may not accurately represent actual events and as details come forward through the litigation process may change the understanding of events as evident in the recent Kenyon non-renewal hearing held on August 5, 2019.”
Mendoza said her daughter is now enrolled at a private school, where she’s repeating the first grade.
“She just doesn’t want to do the work because she thinks being at a school setting, they’re going to lose her again,” Mendoza said.
The girl’s family is seeking damages, but they would not name a specific amount Wednesday.
“We’re going to let the jury assess those kinds of damages,” Garza said. “Mom wants what’s best for her daughter.”