HISD

‘Relieved and suspicious’ — parents of profoundly disabled students react to Houston ISD’s reversal on relocation plan

“I still don’t trust HISD,” said parent Jose Sanchez. “That trust is broken.”

After two months of contentious meetings, critical news stories and uncertainty, the Houston Independent School District announced yesterday that students with profound disabilities would remain at a specialized school, T.H. Rogers.

The program is widely liked by parents, who say their kids make huge progress in the face of often-dire prognoses. The district had planned to split them up across campuses closer to their homes. That decision was reversed Thursday.

You might think parents are feeling pure relief. Their feelings are actually more complicated.

"I’m relieved, but I’m also cautious," said Julie Beeson, parent of 15-year-old student Beau Aubin.

"I’m relieved," said Kelly Millner, who stayed involved in the fight even though her daughter aged out of the program last year. "I’m suspicious. I’m impressed and thankful. And I’m really sad."

"I still don't trust HISD," said parent Jose Sanchez. "That trust is broken."

They feel unsettled because of how the process unfolded, starting in November.

"November 15 — a day I’ll never ever forget," said parent Anitra Washington. "It’s gonna go down in history."

"They sent a letter home in the backpacks," she recalled. "I was just in awe and shocked ... it was of importance to me, and that deserved a conversation not a letter."

The letter announced that the students with profound disabilities would be split up across schools closer to their homes.

"We were stressed, hurt, devastated," Sanchez said.

District officials cited federal law as the basis for the decision. It requires special ed students be integrated into a general population — rather than isolated — when appropriate.

That plan was paused in December. On Thursday, it was reversed. This time, parents received an email.

"I read it twice actually," Washington said. "I really did. I read it twice."

The message said that the district could keep the students together, at T.H. Rogers, while still complying with the law.

The announcement also came a few hours after Houston Public Media published an in-depth story about the situation. Our reporting outlined a similar move that already happened this school year, when the district split up a program for deaf students at T.H. Rogers.

Beeson wishes the deaf program was still at Rogers.

"The majority of the deaf kids were English-as-a-second-language," she said. "I think parents were just in survival mode, and I do think they tried to put up a fight. But I think a lot of what they were missing was to let it play out in the court of public opinion. And I think that’s the one thing that we really had going for us was the media — especially NPR — because it wasn’t just like, dirty laundry. It was ‘Let’s go deep, and let’s crack the code, help us see behind the curtain.'"

HISD superintendent Millard House II credited the advocacy of parents as the driving force behind the decision to keep the program at Rogers.

"I am happy to share that HISD will not be moving forward with the transition of students in the PSI program at T.H. Rogers following a pause on the decision prior to the holiday break," he wrote. "HISD is committed to meeting TEA requirements for the least restrictive environment to keep the program intact at T.H. Rogers and better engaging our parents and families in decisions impacting our students, now and into the future. The feedback, advocacy, and involvement of our community was critical in arriving to this outcome."

Even with the victory, the parents plan to continue fighting to make sure the program stays at T.H. Rogers permanently.

"I need them to be careful," Washington said. "Because this is our lives that you’re messing with."

"How can you trust somebody that burned you?" Sanchez asked.

Superintendent House said in December that his goal was "to take the pause and have as least amount of change for the students moving forward."

For now, that goal is accomplished. A district spokesperson told Houston Public Media that "the program is here to stay at T.H. Rogers."

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Dominic Anthony Walsh

Education & Families Reporter

Dominic Anthony Walsh covers education & families for Houston Public Media's enterprise team. His work examines the institutions and policies affecting millions of students and families across Texas, with a focus on Houston — home to the largest school district in the state. He comes to the Bayou City after...

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