A Texas special education hearing officer will decide whether the Killeen Independent School District will have to pay a family for required special education services that the family says the district did not provide their daughter.
The first of four daylong due process hearings between KISD and Stephanie Moody, whose daughter previously attended KISD, and their respective attorneys, will begin Wednesday morning.
Moody’s daughter has been diagnosed with more than one learning disability. Now 10 years old, she attends another public school district in Bell County.
“Samantha is about to enter 5th grade,” Moody told the Herald. “When we moved, the new school district decided to do their own full evaluation, which revealed that Samantha is autistic. She’s receiving support in the new school district that she didn’t receive in Killeen. They should not have to carry the burden of making up for what KISD did not do.”
Following four due process hearings, the hearing officer has until Oct. 5 to make a decision on Moody’s formal complaint.
The Herald sent questions to the district regarding its special education services.
“Killeen ISD is not able to comment on an ongoing case without a parent’s consent for disclosure,” said KISD Chief Communications and Marketing Officer Taina Maya, in an email on Tuesday.
An 8-year ordeal
The Moody’s moved to the Killeen area due to the Army.
“We only moved here due to my husband’s assignment to Fort Hood,” said Moody, whose husband is now retired from the Army.
The mom said their family’s ordeal began in 2013, before Samantha turned 3.
“She was first evaluated by KISD then, and it’s been one struggle after the other since,” Moody said.
A cascading series of issues began even before Samantha’s enrollment at KISD, according to Moody.
“KISD denied her early intervention services through the PPCD (Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities), and accompanied her denial with a letter explaining how her disabilities were not ‘profound’ enough,” Moody said.
The entire situation should have been handled differently, she said.
“The more I advocated, the more the problems grew,” Moody said.
Moody has been through the Texas Education Agency’s process of resolving complaints and disputes.
On July 10, 2019, she submitted a formal complaint to the TEA, alleging six violations of special education laws. After an investigation, the agency on Sept. 5, 2019, found five of the complaints to be in part or fully substantiated, according to the agency’s 23-page report.
“After I won, I entered a meeting thinking we were going to finally correct their wrongs,” she said.
Instead, KISD appealed the TEA’s decision and hired at least one attorney.
Moody said she was successful during a second TEA investigation.
The years-long back-and-forth will culminate with a hearing officer’s decision later this year. Hearing officers in due process hearings, like judges, are able to award monetary reimbursements. State of Texas special education hearing officers are private practice attorneys and are not employees of the TEA or school district, according to the TEA’s “Special Education Dispute Handbook.”
Days of TEA hearings coming up
The Moody’s attorney is Sonja Kerr, a partner with Austin law firm Connell Michael Kerr, LLP.
Kerr told the Herald that during the hearings, she intends to prove that KISD violated federal law.
“We’ll be trying to show the hearing officer that the school district actually denied Samantha a ‘free appropriate public education,’” Kerr said. “The school’s lawyer will be trying to show that they did. If we prevail, Samantha would be entitled to various remedies, including reimbursement for services such as tutoring or therapy.”
Since 1975 when the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), was passed, children with disabilities have been entitled to access to a “free appropriate public education,” or FAPE, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
As part of that federal law, all public school districts are required to provide an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for every special education student. Kerr said that Samantha’s IEP was not individualized to her needs and that the district was not collaborative with Moody.
Moody wants members of the community to know about her family’s experiences.
“We’ve chosen to have an open, public hearing so that my daughter is not another ‘hush hush’ case,” Moody said. “I believe there are many other military and non-military families with children with special needs who are put into a bad situation. I’m getting the information into the public eye to help prevent this from happening to the next child. This has taken an extensive toll on our entire family, both mentally and financially. I wouldn’t wish our experience on anyone.”