Former teacher says HCDE use of force on disabled students 'very common'

The allegation against a Houston campus for kids in behavioral crisis is both powerful and disturbing.

"It is a dumping ground. There is not instruction, academic instruction going on. It's kids being warehoused in a room with staff standing by in case one of them acts out so that staff can jump on them and restrain them and use violence," said Shiloh Carter, an attorney with Disability Rights-Texas.

FOX 26 was the first to report charges of brutality lodged against ABS-West and the Harris County Department of Education in connection with injuries suffered by Evan Johnson, a 20-year-old student challenged with Autism.

"They treated me like an animal," said Johnson in the report.

It was alleged abuse within the walls of the Southwest Houston campus captured on camera and under investigative review by both the Texas Education Agency and Child Protective Services.

"On these campuses, these restraints are very,very common," said Ron Angeletti.

And Angeletti would know.

For several years he worked as a teacher for the Harris County Department of Education and witnessed first-hand how disabled students assigned from school districts throughout greater Houston were controlled by brute, physical force.

Angeletti says those delivering these "restraints" receive just a single day of training in their proper delivery.

"I don't think there is one teacher that gets up in the morning and says that I am going to school to injure a kid or to do something. It happens and without the expert knowledge of how to deescalate a situation, it's inevitable you are going to have injuries and unfortunately it happens all too often at the AB campuses," said Angeletti.

While the HCDE campuses claim to target behavioral issues, Angeletti says they have never been staffed by educators with behavioral expertise - specialists who analyze why children act out and develop science driven strategies to help them cope.

"It becomes, do what's convenient and not what's best," said Angeletti.

They are concerns Angeletti took to the HCDE Board, both before and after his departure from the district.

"What haunts me is that my cries fell on deaf ears for so long," said Angeletti.

FOX 26 has confirmed multiple former HCDE students alleging mistreatment are likely to join Evan Johnson's complaint to the state

HCDE issued FOX 26 the following statement.

"HCDE puts the safety and well-being of the students who attend its specialized schools in top priority.  All campus staff at HCDE’s Academic and Behavior schools are trained in both behavior management techniques and acceptable restraint methods.  For the past nine years, HCDE has had a full-time position dedicated to assisting with behavior issues unique to our student population.  Due to the specialized nature of this position, filling vacancies in this position has been challenging at times.  HCDE sets high standards for its staff to support our special needs students.

Regarding your inquiry concerning HCDE’s pricing structure, HCDE confirms that in-county school districts are charged $20,300 per seat per school year and out-of-county school districts are charged $23,500 per seat per school year.  School districts may use one “seat” to serve multiple students over the course of a school year."