Special Education Harris County

Academic and Behavior School East is shown in Houston. Some Galveston County parents are concerned about the school’s appearance and distance from home campuses.

Kim Stripling quit her job so she could homeschool her 5-year-old son full time after Clear Creek Independent School District recommended sending him to an out-of-district campus that made her uncomfortable, she said.

“That was their compromise — wanting to send him there,” Stripling said. “The area around it is fenced and they say it’s for protection, but it really looks like an institution. All the kids have to go through a metal detector before entering school. This place is a dumping ground.”

Parents and education experts say they are concerned about the outside appearance, the apparent lack of state accountability and the distance of the school in Houston from Galveston County.

But district officials stand by the decision to send students to the Houston school near the intersection of Interstate 45 and Interstate 610 Loop in the southern part of Houston, citing the strength of the programs.

District officials only send students to the school if they exhibit repeated behaviors that are dangerous to themselves and others and the setting is determined in a collaborative meeting with parents, said Elaina Polsen, spokeswoman for Clear Creek Independent School District.

Clear Creek is one of several districts in Galveston County, including Dickinson, Texas City and Galveston, among others, to purchase student slots for special education students with severe disabilities at an alternative school run by the Harris County Department of Education called the Academic and Behavior School East, 7703 S. Loop E.

The department operates two similar schools, east and west.

Officials with the Academic and Behavior School East did not respond to several requests for comment about the institution and its programs by deadline Thursday.

Together, Galveston County school districts are projected to spend more than $770,000 this school year in tuition at the schools.

District officials say the institution is the closest of its kind to Galveston County and that it has resources that local districts lack for dealing with severe issues.

“Look, I understand that the outside gives it a very forbidding appearance,” said Laurie Rodriguez, director of special programs at Dickinson Independent School District. “It looks from the outside like you’re going to jail. But on the inside, it’s painted a lavender color and is bright and cheery. And the entire campus is students in special education.”

District officials emphasized that only a very small number of students are sent to the school. Clear Creek, which has a student population of about 42,000, has only 11 students attending the school, Polsen said.

While officials with different school districts praise the programming and specialty nature of the school, some parents and education experts remain concerned.

“Another problem is that in the district, they are looking for round pegs for round holes,” said Louis Geigerman, an Admission, Review and Dismissal advocate for several cases against Clear Creek. “If you have a square peg, what they do is ship them off to that school.”

Admission, Review and Dismissal — or ARD — is the name of a group of people who made decisions regarding the education of a student, in particular, in relation to special education.

The Harris County Department of Education operates the Academic and Behavior School East using chapters 17 and 18 of the Texas Education Code, though Chapter 17 has since been deleted, said DeEtta Culbertson, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency.

The schools work similarly to an education service center in that the department forms co-ops with districts to provide discipline and special education programs, Culbertson said.

Students attend the schools on a daily basis, but remain part of their home districts for accountability purposes, said Susan Bowles, the director of special education for Hitchcock Independent School District.

“We don’t look at this as long-term,” Bowles said. “We take them there, but we want them back as soon as we can.”

The behavior school itself does not supply accountability reports, officials said.

“The best thing is checking in with the home district,” Culbertson said.

School districts across the state of Texas have come under increased scrutiny over their handling of special education programs in recent months after a 15-month federal probe found that the Texas Education Agency had effectively instituted an 8.5 percent cap on special education services.

There are potential problems with sending students to the behavior school, such as the extra transportation time and the possibility that parents could feel disconnected to their children, but the resources and programs available outweigh any negatives, Rodriguez said.

The Dickinson school district has looked into the possibility of starting its own similar program, but the cost of such a decision would be steep, Rodriguez said.

For parents like Stripling, however, the issues go deeper than cost.

“It’s a dumping ground, but it’s the only option they gave us,” she said. “I asked for alternatives, and that was it. How is this benefiting my child?”

Matt deGrood: 409-683-5230; matt.degrood@galvnews.com

Tuition Cost Per Year

Local school district pay tens of thousands to behavior schools in Harris County to teach students with extreme special education needs.

District Santa Fe Dickinson Clear Creek Galveston Texas City Hitchcock Friendswood Total
2015-2016 $14,000 $18,000 $338,300 $37,000 $87,100 $11,350 n/a $505,750
2016-2017 $47,000 $70,500 $284,200 $76,000 $217,925 $47,000 n/a $742,625
2017-2018 $70,500 $117,500 $284,200 $50,000 $211,940 $39,250 n/a $773,390



(9) comments

Robert Braeking

How in the world can a 5-year old be possibly required to go to going to 'thug' school? Does Clear Creek have such a lack of disciplinary aptitude that they cannot control a 5-year old? This Mom needs to sue for the cost of parochial school.

Carlos Ponce

It doesn't look like a "thug" school. Look at the pictures:
"Students with intellectual or behavioral disabilities thrive in Academic and Behavior Schools.
HCDE Academic and Behavior Schools provide an enriching and supportive learning environment for students aged 5-22 with intellectual, developmental and behavioral disorders, autism spectrum disorder and other significant health impairments. Students with intellectual or behavioral disabilities thrive in Academic and Behavior Schools."
Sometimes the intellectual or behavioral disabilities are so severe that it takes specialists to handle them that the local districts don't have. The alternative would be to "warehouse" them in the area schools. That would be cruel. It's not an easy decision for the school district nor parents but the needs of the children take precedence.

Kimberly Stripling

Carlos then as the parent of this article... you tell me what Certifications or specialties does this School have that my son's Teacher and staff does not possess? Why wouldn't the school district put the money into training them and having the necessary staff to do the job? Why pay almost 20K per slot to ship my 5 year old there instead of putting that 20K into their schools? It is very intimidating...ship your own kid there and tell me you have NO EMOTION to it. I am a VERY INVOLVED mother and a 5 year old doesn't need to be made to go through metal detectors daily.
Please don't waste all of our time with saying that this isn't an easy decision for the school district when clearly I know who wanted to put him there and they don't have even have the experience to be in his position so he didn't want to deal with us. CCISD does not want anyone to question their judgement but what are they doing with all that money they get??? They are funding themselves but not giving the necessary staff needed for the classrooms which we have all asked for. Unless you go through this your opinion is just that...a person who judges from the outside!
Find a hobby or something because this is MY KID'S LIFE you are talking about!

Carlos Ponce

"you tell me what Certifications or specialties does this School have that my son's Teacher and staff does not possess?"
As a parent did you actually enter the building to see what was going on? Remember you cannot judge a book by its cover nor a school by its outward appearance. As a parent you can request to see the certifications or specialties each school has and compare.
I taught in public schools for 32 years. There are some students who need the special facilities and care that this facility offers. Special students range in ability and needs. Most, the local school district can accommodate. If the professional staff of your school district feel this facility is best for your child then I applaud you for questioning this decision but note it was made by Special Service professionals. But it also your responsibility to personally visit the facility to see if your child's needs will be met.
May God Bless you! He has entrusted you with this child's care. Ask questions, visit the school, talk with other parents whose children were assigned to this facility, read the ARD recommendations. If it is not a good fit, so be it.

Robert Braeking

You seem to be well versed in the opinions of the Collective®. I cannot believe that Galveston County is so small that they would have to bus a student with "academic or behavioral" problems all the way to Houston. What happens to the students in Alpine? Do they bus them to Dallas?

Carlos Ponce

Part of Clear Creek ISD lies within Harris County so it makes sense for them to use the HCDE (Harris County Department of Education) facility. As for Hitchcock, Santa Fe, Texas City, Dickinson, Galveston ISD using HCDE for students with extreme special education needs it may make sense from a financial standpoint. All these school districts lie within ESC 4 (Education Service Center 4). "The schools work similarly to an education service center in that the department forms co-ops with districts to provide discipline and special education programs, [DeEtta] Culbertson said". Alpine lies within ESC 18.

Kimberly Stripling

Thank you Robert! Yes they rather put money out for someone else to deal with my son than to education and get the staff up to par. They need to stop fighting the parents and put that money back into the program where it is needed!

Robert Braeking

Having been an ADHD student in grammar school (that is what they called that back in the day.....they taught grammar), I can empathize with your child. They call it ADHD but the last D does not apply. I find myself moving on from settled conversations long before the other participants can even catch up. It is not a disorder. It is a quick mind. Non compliant is not a disorder. Keep the faith.

Carlos Ponce

ADHD students, sometimes just referred to as hyperactive students is not what the Academic and Behavior School East School is used for. ADHD students are usually mainstreamed under their ARD, that is they have regular classes with other students with behavior modification as part of their ARD. I've taught ADHD students in regular classrooms.
Who is sent to the AB school? "District officials only send students to the school if they exhibit repeated behaviors that are dangerous to themselves and others and the setting is determined in a collaborative meeting with parents..."
The term "Grammar School" was sometimes used in place of the more familiar "Elementary School" but usually refers to a school for children aged 10 to 14. The term "Primary School" is used for students aged 5 to 9.
The elementary school in Hitchcock, Texas was known as "Hitchcock Grammar School" in the early part of the 20th Century. It was located where the Richard G. Mooney Gym now stands on Neville Street.
Theodore (Beaver) Cleaver attended Grant Avenue Grammar School in the TV series "Leave it to Beaver". When the series begins, Beaver was in the second grade and brother Wally in the eighth grade both at Grant Avenue Grammar School.

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