IEP challenges in Texas

Angelica Earls

We are writing this in an attempt to raise awareness of the lack of appropriate service for autistic children in the Texas Public Education system and the Richardson ISD in particular. This lack of appropriate services does not allow these special education children to obtain the Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) to which they are entitled as defined in the IDEA Act. To illustrate this we would like to relate our own experiences, which we believe are more typical, than the school district would lead you to believe.

First, some background information to set the stage for the situation. We have a 5 year old with a diagnosis of autism. We have been attempting to obtain the services detailed in his current IEP which was developed to adapt and improve his behavioral, coping, and social skills. This IEP was a cooperative effort between us the parents and the Fremont Unified School District (FUSD) in Fremont, California. Within the FUSD our son was enrolled in a kindergarten class for high functioning autistic children and had a 1:1 aide to assist with his challenges. The overriding goal of his IEP was mainstreaming him in a general education class. Progress was being made towards his individual behavioral and social skills goals and the 1:1 aide was determined a requirement to assist him in meeting the challenges he encountered during the school day.

The current situation is the RISD has placed our son in a Behavioral Problems class located at Northwood Hill Elementary. This location was only supposed to be temporary as we transitioned into the area and located a home in Richardson and a new IEP was developed in accordance to the law and also due to it was time for the IEP triennial review. There are several reasons why this situation is not the Least Restrictive Environment for our son.

First, a Behavioral Problems class (which we were not informed of the class type/makeup upon his initial enrollment) is designed for children with moderate to severe behavioral issues. This is the worst possible environment for an autistic child especially an autistic child with peer social skills challenges. Children with Behavioral Problems have better developed social skills which allow them to intimidate and manipulate our son often triggering emotional outbursts or a “meltdown” for our son.

Second, is the use of a “Command and Control,” for lack of a more appropriate description, philosophy in order to maintain a semblance of normality in this class. Part of this philosophy is the result of the teacher’s inexperience (less than three years in Special Education). This lack of experience manifests itself in an inability of knowing how to deal with the plethora of issues presented by a high functioning autistic child especially in this particular classroom environment. Another part of the reason is a necessity to “obey the rules above all else” mentality. This is exemplified by the inclusion of the statement “obey the rules as detailed in the Northwood Hills elementary and RISD Cod3 of Student Conduct” as an entry in our son’s IEP. In over two decades of parental involvement with multiple school districts in four states we have never experienced such a clause.

So what do these issues mean and how does it negatively impact our son from receiving a FAPE in the Least Restrictive Environment? The teacher’s lack of experience and control philosophy leads to outbursts and non-compliant behavior from our son, which consequently leads to a “breaking of the rules.” Now sometimes this is dealt with appropriately such as an immediate denial of a preferred activity (e.g. recess). Most of the time, though, the teacher and her assistance inappropriately deny access to a preferred activity by not utilizing the correct reinforces and/or even denying access to the preferred activity well after the incident (i.e. the next school day). Worse yet due to the violence and aggression of our son’s outbursts and/or non-compliance the teacher and/or her assistants use restraints or physically restrain our son until he is exhausted or manages on his own to calm down. The use of restraints has occurred an unbelievable 12 times (seven during transport situations) in only 11 days of attendance at Northwood Hills. In our son’s previous three years of public school instructions he has never had to be restrained for any reason. This is an excellent example of a teacher without the proper training and experience being placed in a command position and consequently abusing not only that position’s authority but also the children, in particular our son, in a pathetic attempt to control the situation.

Also the teacher utilizes isolation, the so-called “Red Zone,” as a reinforce for negative behaviors. Children are sent to this area, which is supposedly open but has never been defined to us even though we have requested to see this area, when they are non-compliant or have an outburst. Again the use of a defined area for calming down purposes is acceptable as long as it is open and for young children not truly isolated. From what little we have been able to get from the school district this area is part of the classroom separated by a room divider. But our son has told us differently telling us little (he has been instructed by his teacher not to say anything about the “Red Zone”) that the area is small and he is alone. Since attending Northwood Hills he has also had a re-emergence of his night terrors which have been absent for over a year. He screams “Not the Red Zone, please!” over and over in his sleep until we are able to reach him and calm him down. It is absolutely terrifying to see him in this state, knowing you cannot reach him and do not have a way to remove what is frightening him. We have no idea of how often this “Red Zone” is being utilized for our son only that it is traumatizing him.

These are the primary reasons we are attempting to reach out to whoever will listen to this story. If this is happening to our child how many other children out there are going through similar events. Though the schools send home a Use of Restraint form for every incident (though we have only received five forms and found out during the IEP discussions there were 12 actual uses of restraints) most parents do not know or understand what the use of restraints actually is. Again we have no information on how often our son has been confined to the “Red Zone.”

Finally RISD has continually misrepresented not only its intentions but also our own statements and has refused to take our experience in handling our son into account in the creation of his new IEP. First, RISD would not devote a 1:1 aide as defined in his current IEP during the transition period. The IDEA Act states the current IEP must be used as defined during the 30 day transition of a student into a new school. The school district’s members during the ARD meeting stated we had made no request for a 1:1 aide when in fact it was the primary topic of discussion when we initially brought our son for enrollment in RISD. Even if they did not “remember” our discussions it was included in the IEP from the FUSD. Richardson ISD “interpreted” the “comparable services” 1:1 aide was to have a group of teachers/assistants (some not trained in Special Education) who would accompany our son during his daily activities. This individual would often change during the day (changes by the way are not conducive for obtaining positive outcomes for children with autism) and this individual also would often be responsible for other children during those activities, hence the individual would not be a dedicated 1:1 aide.

Secondly RISD has not been forthcoming on the types of special education programs and the program locations within the district’s schools. We have asked repeatedly when first enrolling our son as at that time wanted to have an idea of where we could locate a new home near to an appropriate school in case we were unable to locate a home near Northwood Hills which was what happened. As we have learned since our son’s placement he has been placed in an inappropriate class and the RISD school district, as large as it is, supposedly does not have an autistic program. We are also being informed that Northwood Hills is now our son’s permanent placement even though his home school is almost directly across the street from our home. We have never encountered this level of deceit and misdirection in all of our years of experience.

Our purpose here is not only bringing awareness to our son’s situation but also to assist in raising the awareness of the general public and, in particular, other parents of children enrolled in Public Special Education programs in the state of Texas and elsewhere. While many places do uphold the spirit of the law and attempt to provide the most appropriate education possible to these special children there are too many that do not. The reasons identified here are not the only examples of inappropriate training, experience, and teaching methodologies but just the tip of the iceberg. It is up to not only the parents of these children but also to their “protectors” such as the media, our legislators, representatives, and senators to continually strive to correct the system and truly give these very special children an opportunity to positively contribute to our society. As has been said on many occasions these children have so much to offer and we can all learn so much from their struggles and become not only better people but a better society. Thank you for taking the time to read this, give it some thought, and hopefully finding the courage to take some action.

To share your personal stories of how autism has affected your life, your family's struggles and triumphs, email them to to have them shared here

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