Friday, December 11, 2009

Texas child with disabilities given timeout in dark, closed restroom

From KBTX-TV in Bryan-College Station, Texas:

Kiersten Jordy is like most 7-year-olds, but in many ways she's not. Doctors have diagnosed Kiersten with mental retardation and carries traits of autism and Down's Syndrome. Doctors also say Kiersten may never have a classic diagnosis. Larry and Janet Jordy say their daughter can't speak in full sentences and is only able to communicate a word or two. The Jordy's say they were surprised to learn in late May 2009, that their daughter's teacher, Sharon Figueron, put Kiersten in a dark, closed restroom as a form of timeout.

"We would never, never agree with putting her in a dark bathroom, there's nothing right about that," said Larry Jordy.

Progress reports of Kiersten's daily activities were sent home weekly for the Jordys to sign. However, the Jordy's say they were aware of Kiersten being placed in timeout but not being put in a dark, closed restroom as timeout.

"Honestly I don't remember signing it or reading it. Maybe I talked to her about it. Did I tell her it was okay? Absolutely not. I'm sure I would not just let it go," said Janet Jordy.

According to a 16 page document released by a Certified Hearing Examiner, the Jordy's found out about the restroom punishment from a Bonham Elementary teacher's aide. The report says on May 13, 2009, the aide went to get Kiersten for inclusion class and found her in the restroom with the lights out. After learning of the restroom punishment, the Jordy's filed a complaint with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) on June 1, just one day before Bryan I.S.D. administrators received information that the restroom had been used as timeout for Kiersten.

Progress notes written by Figueron show the dark, closed restroom was used as punishment on February 12, 2009 as well. Figueron wrote, "I put her sitting on the bathroom and shut the door. To make it short, she (student) turned the light on, got a mat, opened the door and constantly defied me. We then had a snack, and I left her sitting there watching us and told her she couldn't have one. The snacks were for the children that listened and behaved."

The Hearing Examiner's report also said progress notes Kiersten was placed in the restroom as a consequence for behaviors on May 12, 2009 and May 15, 2009. Based on the February 12, 2009 progress note the TEA initiated a complaint of suspected child abuse to the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services.

The Jordy's say regardless of when Bryan I.S.D. administrators found out about the incidents they would have still filed a complaint with the TEA. The Jordy's say the district dropped the ball by not taking enough action after the Jordy's say they withdrew a May 2008 complaint with the TEA at the request of the school district. The Jordy's say during the 2007-2009 school years Kiersten was a student at Bonham Elementary, the school district has made broken promises that the situation between Kiersten and her teacher would improve. Shortly, after filing their complaint with the TEA the Jordy's sought legal counsel.

"I think the public should know the administration was pretty much prepared to sweep it under the rug," said the Jordy's attorney, Ty Clevenger.

"We certainly didn't try to sweep it under the rug. We moved forward on it in a very fast moving way," said Bryan I.S.D. Superintendent, Mike Cargill.

During the same time the TEA launched their investigating into the restroom incidents, Bryan I.S.D. also launched their own investigation. In April 2009, Bryan I.S.D. hired a consultant to help Figueron in developing behavior modification strategies for Kiersten. The hearing examiner's report says the consultant provided training on the behavior plan that was implemented and modeled appropriate behavior for Figueron. The consultant did not recommend the use of timeout, and Figueron did not discuss her use of timeout with Kiersten with the consultant. The report also shows Figueron received training in August 2007 and July 2008 on positive behavior intervention strategies, including required procedures for using timeout as a behavior strategy with disabled children. Figueron also received training on instructional interventions for students exhibiting non-compliant behavior and de-escalating techniques.

On July 31st, a hearing examiner recommended the school board terminate Figueron's contract. The investigation showed their was no legitimate reason for Figueron to place Kiersten in a restroom as Figueron described to have a "few minutes to eat lunch."
The TEA found that Figueron violated her term contract, board policies and directives of the Texas Administrative Code by "placing a mentally retarded child with limited speech capabilities in the restroom for timeout behavior consequences and shutting the door."

On October 28th, Figueron's termination was finalized. News 3 spoke to Figueron and her attorney, and both say she should not have lost her job. Figueron's attorney says she is being used as a scapegoat because Bryan I.S.D. did not provide her with information as far as training on how to handle timeout situations specifically involving Kiersten. Figueron's attorney said the consultant Bryan I.S.D. hired in April 2009 never addressed the timeout method Figueron should use with Kiersten. Her attorney also said Figueron was not aware she was breaking the Texas Administrative Code by using a dark, closed restroom as punishment for Kiersten.

Meanwhile, the Jordy's say Figueron's termination is not their biggest concern.

"We're already having to deal with the counseling and everything for Kiersten and so we can't go backwards to help that. But maybe we can help the one child who might be struggling through the same thing that can't talk like Kiersten," said Janet Jordy.

The Jordy's say this whole ordeal has had a severe impact on Kiersten. Because she's now afraid of the dark and can't sleep alone at night. In early December, the Jordy's removed Kiersten from Bonham Elementary and enrolled her in another school.

Sharon Figueron is not eligible to be re-hired in Bryan I.S.D. although she has 15 years of experience in education, and 10 years with Bryan I.S.D. Her attorney says since she was terminated she hasn't taken any legal action, and will "move on with her life."

Meanwhile, the TEA said the procedures Bryan I.S.D. took in handling the matter were properly done.