TEA says Harris County behavioral school mistreated disabled student

The allegations against the campus known as ABC West were disturbing.

A 20-year-old autistic student was brutalized by staff members during so-called restraints, physical force which left the young man bruised and emotionally traumatized. It was all captured by surveillance video, images which have remained confidential, but have since been reviewed by the Texas Education Agency for evidence of wrongdoing.

That investigation is now complete and it found every single complaint lodged by the student and his lawyer at Disability Rights-Texas was fully substantiated.

"I am telling you this is about as bad as it gets," said Louis Geigerman, a well-known Houston advocate for students with special needs.

Geigerman has been a longtime critic of how many local independent school districts banish severely challenged children to secretive facilities operated by the Harris County Department of Education.

"There is no accountability to these schools at all," said Geigerman. "TEA has no oversight to them."

The TEA investigation determined the Harris County Department of Education Academic and Behavior School West improperly restrained Evan Johnson, failed to properly report those restraints as required by law, failed to follow his behavior intervention plan and failed to provide an appropriate education.

Investigators also found evidence that a classmate was allowed to participate in the Johnson restraint.

FOX 26 News has revealed additional allegations from two former students who claim they too were physically abused at ABC campuses.

"There are children at risk here by the methods I see referred to in the report," said Texas State Senator Paul Bettencourt, a Houston-based Republican. "The report is scathing and it deserves to be."

Bettencourt believes the TEA findings bolster his case to abolish the Harris County Department of Education.

"I am very concerned at this time why we even have an agency that proclaims themselves to be the expert in the area, and clearly they are coming down to brute force to resolve a problem," said Sen. Bettencourt.

The Harris County Department of Education issued the following statement:

Having received the report earlier today, HCDE is still reviewing its contents. We welcome the opportunity to improve our services as we meet the dynamic needs of our students. Prior to TEA’s investigation into this incident, HCDE took action to address the matter using the incident as a teachable moment, incorporating it into existing and future trainings. Superintendent James Colbert said, “HCDE is committed to serving the students of Harris County with the utmost of care, and we embrace the privilege to serve this unique population. It is essential that our students are treated appropriately and with great care throughout the teaching and learning process."

In the meantime, Cypress Fairbanks ISD, which sent Evan Johnson to Academic and Behavior School West, has been ordered by the TEA to repair the damage done to the student's education and mental health.