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Disability rights activists push Texas lawmakers to end harmful student restraints

A Round Rock ISD administrator accused of abuse by Texas DFPS has resigned, effective in May. Until then, he's on earned leave. RRISD officials would not elaborate.

ROUND ROCK, Texas — Nearly a year after a Round Rock ISD school administrator was seen throwing a then-13-year-old student into the wall of what's known as a "cool off room," disability rights activists are asking the Texas Legislature to protect special needs students and stop student restraints.

"School districts in Texas are allowed to use various techniques on students with disabilities that are known as 'restraints.' Restraints are physical holds to control a student's bodily movements," said Steve Aleman, an attorney with Disability Rights Texas. "While that might be necessary in very limited circumstances, tragically those restraints are happening more and more violently to students with disabilities across Texas."

State Rep. Dr. Mary Gonzalez filed House Bill 133, which looks to prohibit certain restraints on students in public schools who receive special education services.

"We can't hear story after story and say we don't have a responsibility to do something," Gonzalez said. "We can't know that there are still gaps in legislation or public policy that need to be addressed when students lives are at harm."

Quintin Proctor, now 14 years old, told the KVUE Defenders in October that the experience between him and then-vice principal of GOALS Learning Center, Jacob Thomas, scared him.

"I mean, it hurt," Proctor said at the time. "I came home and I had this lump on my head."

Surveillance footage first shows two unnamed teachers take Proctor into a "cool-off room," which is used in certain schools for students to reset when they're feeling anxious, angry or overwhelmed. The teachers use a restraint called the "two person forward."

For the first few minutes, the video shows Proctor standing in the cool-off room, leaning against the wall. The two women are standing at the entrance. 

Texas law states that while a student can be taken to a cool-off room, they are not allowed to be kept from leaving it. The two women do not allow Proctor to leave.

Later, Thomas appears at the entrance, leans against the wall and speaks to Proctor.

Proctor said during this time, he saw the women walk away and thought he was allowed to walk with them since Thomas was not fully blocking the entryway to the cool-off room. When Proctor tried to exit, he said Thomas reached for him, grabbed him and threw him back into the cool-off room. The video shows Proctor hit the wall and fall to the ground before getting up.

The two women and Thomas enter the cool-off room as Proctor stands up, where the four appear to have a verbal exchange. Thomas is then seen putting Proctor in a restraint on the ground in the cool-off room.

Tatiana Alfano, Proctor's mother, said the "prone" restraint was used on Proctor. In the video, Proctor is taken to the ground by Thomas, and assisted in keeping him down by at least one of the women. Thomas can be heard yelling.

At the Texas State Capitol, Aleman said these type of restraints do more harm than good.

"Stop the senseless abuse of students with disabilities in our Texas public schools," Aleman said.  

According to Disability Rights Texas, students with disabilities are more susceptible to injuries, and even death, from physical restraints.

Alfano calls the usage of restraints abusive.

"I just don't know how any sane person can look at that [video] and say it's not abuse," Alfano said.

In this case, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) agrees with Alfano.

In its first investigation into the incident between Thomas and Quintin in the spring of 2022, DFPS said abuse did not occur – a letter stated that abuse was "ruled out."

However, in a letter to Alfano in November, the state agency had reopened the case and said there was "reason to believe" that abuse did occur.

Alfano and Proctor said Round Rock ISD has not reached out to them following the incident. 

"Round Rock hasn't changes any of their policies, they haven't changed any of their stances, they still haven't apologized to Quintin," Alfano said.

Round Rock ISD officials told the KVUE Defenders they also received a letter in November from DFPS. The letter officials received did not state that abuse had occurred.

The KVUE Defenders asked for a copy of the letter, but the school district did not provide one. Instead, the district stated that the letter they received did not say the same as Alfano's letter.

However, inside sources with DFPS said Round Rock ISD was never sent a letter with the updated investigation findings.

Thomas has since resigned from the school district, effective at the end of the school year in May. In the meantime, Thomas is on what district officials are calling "earned" leave, though the district would not elaborate on what that means.

"There are teachers out there who have physically done less to students and have been swiftly terminated," Alfano said. "They don't seem to have any kind of interest in correcting their wrongs."

Disability rights activists said place like Round Rock ISD, which averaged more than 100 reports of restraints in its school in the fall 2022 semester, and other districts like it should have better practices for its students with disabilities.

Activists hope to get the State to pass HB 133.

"We're asking for transparency," Gonzalez said. "We're asking for accountability. We're asking for being proactive versus reactive."

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