Parents concerned for future of HISD program serving special needs

HOUSTON – The Preparing Students for Independence program at T.H. Rogers serves students with unique needs that cannot be met at their zoned Houston Independent School District campus.

Julie Beeson is the mother of 16-year-old Beau, a student in the PSI program at T.H. Rogers.

“This is a program of profoundly disabled children. And they are together in a conglomerate setting where they can bring in a therapist. They have, you know, different, they have the teachers that are specifically trained to for children like this.”

Parents of students in the program are concerned the program could be disbanded under the new leadership of HISD, which was taken over by the state this year. The concerns really began to grow in 2022, when the district moved to dissolve the program, which would force children with severely impaired disabilities to go to their zoned school.

Weighing just 2 pounds 2 ounces, Beau entered this world prematurely at 26 weeks. According to Julie, he suffered a brain bleed and as a result, and has multiple impairments and cerebral palsy.

“Ninety-eight percent of brain bleeds happen in the first 24 hours, but his didn’t.”

Julie raised Beau with the best of care, and part of that involved her sending him to the PSI program at T.H. Rogers. The program serves children 3 to 22 years old with severe impairments and disabilities that would not be appropriately met at their zoned school.

“You know, inclusion is contagious and that’s what happens at T.H. Rogers. If our children are separated, they’ll be at random, they’ll just be spread out at different schools. One or two kids in every classroom with the teacher in aide watching films all day. People will know probably there’s disabled kids and they’re back there somewhere, but they won’t. They won’t be included like they are at Rogers,” explained Beeson.

In November of last year, Julie, along with other parents of students in the PSI program, received a note sent home in their child’s backpack. It reads in part:

“Dear parents, we are excited to share a new opportunity for your student. The preparing students for independence classrooms are relocating from T.H. Rogers to neighborhood campuses throughout HISD.”

“It was a gut punch. I was devastated,” explained Beeson.

Parents filed a grievance, which is still ongoing today.

“The former board ruled we could stay at Rogers, but we’re concerned for the future because it didn’t say how long, and that was the former board,” explained Beeson.

David Beinke is a Special Education Advocate with Cirkiel Law Group.

“In best case scenario, a misunderstanding. Worst case scenario, a deliberate attempt to move students based on administrative efficiency or budget,” Beinke said.

David represents the parents of students within the PSI program through the grievance.

“We have a new board and a new superintendent and a new opportunity to set this right for the long term,” explained Beinke.

“We don’t need to take a step backwards, it would really be going backwards to separate all these kids and just put them in different schools and have one or two of them in a classroom that’s not moving forward. We’ve come so far with disability. Let’s not go back,” explained Beeson.

HISD responded to KPRC 2’s inquiry about the PSI program stating:

“T.H. Rogers first opened in 1962 as a junior high school. In 1979, the campus was repurposed to serve Houston ISD students who required services to address their significant health impairments, including students who were deaf/hard of hearing. HISD anticipates 45 students who will need services for significant health impairments to return to T.H. Rogers for the 2023-2024 school year. T.H. Rogers’ mission is to serve gifted and talented children and students with multiple impairments who range in age from 3 to 22. The school also boasts a student population representing more than half the countries in the world, and it is this mosaic of learners that promotes the idea captured in the words penned by Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.’ The core elements of its philosophy focus on empathy, responsibility, honesty, confidence, respect, and courage.”

The Level 3 hearing, which is part of the grievance process is scheduled with the new board on September 14.

About the Author:

Zachery “Zach” Lashway anchors KPRC 2+ Now. He began at KPRC 2 as a reporter in October 2021.