ALLEN, Texas — Nine-year-old Brock Jones ran through his family’s living room eagerly showing off family photos and stopping to talk, in excited detail, about the ones featuring his father Ketric Jones dressed for work as a Dallas Police officer.
Ketric Jones smiled with pride at his son’s explanations of his career in law enforcement, but it came as he also worried about what the fast approaching school year will hold for Brock, and the school years to come after that.
“Started back in preschool we noticed something was wrong,” said Ketric Jones sitting next to his wife Jackie Jones. “And then when he went to school we noticed behaviors that were different and the teachers said he was acting out.”
The Joneses said it quickly became clear that Brock’s behavior issues weren’t completely in his control as attempts to simply get him to "do what he’s told" didn’t always work. They took Brock to several doctors and specialists who diagnosed him with several special needs conditions including ADHD, ODHD, and Dysgraphia, Ketric Jones said, to name a few.
Suddenly, the Joneses found themselves in the special education system at Brock’s Allen ISD school where they said he was put with teachers and often in classrooms specialized for students needing additional support.
Representatives at the Allen ISD said they can’t comment directly on the Joneses situation, but issued the following statement regarding their special education offerings:
In Allen Independent School District, we strive to create positive learning environments for all students. For our students in need of special education services, Allen ISD offers a variety of classroom types to best support their learning needs. For example, the Positive Attitudes for Success (PAS) classroom that assists students who exhibit a significant level of classroom behavior and social skill issues. Based on the student’s need, and always in partnership between the parents and school staff, their school day may consist of being completely in the PAS classroom to a majority of the day in a general education classroom with periodic support from the PAS program.
Allen ISD has a number of therapeutic specialists and positive behavior specialists on staff who are dedicated to supporting our students and providing them with resources such as positive coping skills. The mental health and well-being of our students will always be a priority in Allen ISD, and we attempt to form a partnership between student, parents, and staff to create a nurturing and inclusive learning environment.
Ketric and Jackie though, said while a lot of the tools are there, it’s inconsistent when it comes to handling Brock specifically.
“Because they don’t have the resources, they try to group everybody into one group,” said Ketric Jones.
The Joneses said they started bringing Brock’s situation up to neighbors and others with students in special education in both their district and surrounding ones. They said it quickly became apparent that their concerns for Brock were the same as concerns of a lot of other special needs parents in a lot of other Texas school districts.
Ketric Jones said the reoccurring complaint is that not all teachers and staff that have to interact with the special needs students are necessarily prepared for those kids’ individual conditions; up to speed on the students’ individual approach and reaction plans. As a result, he said he’s heard of special needs students across the states ending up in trouble because of a behavioral incident with an untrained staff member, stigmatized among their classmates as a ‘bad kid,’ or sent to an alternative school where they can’t get the care or education they need.
Jones said in his career as an officer, he’s even seen police responses to public schools because of special needs students getting violent in a behavioral fit that someone didn’t know how to approach.
“Before our son ‘ages out’ or gets to the age of 10 where it could be a criminal matter, we want to get our son help, get him something he needs to get the best education possible,” said Ketric Jones.
“There needs to be people on staff that can handle children like our child,” added Jackie Jones.
Special education experts said the Joneses fears are certainly echoed by parents in similar situations in many public school districts.
“Unfortunately, it’s definitely something that needs to be addressed,” said Dr. Tammy Cyra, a long-time special education teacher in the DFW area who now operates as a special education advocate for families in the system; often acting as an intermediate between the districts and parents.
Cyra said the biggest issue she sees in the current system is, like the Joneses pointed out, training of teachers and staff. She said right now she’s seen situations as simple as a substitute teacher who’s untrained in a student’s particular approach plan ending up caught in a behavioral incident and leaving the student in trouble as a result.
“It’s not really fair to the child to give them consequences if it’s part of a disability,” said Cyra.
However, it’s certainly a difficult situation to approach. Cyra points out that the special education field has a high teacher turn-over rate with many dropping out due to the stress of the field, and she said good help doesn’t come cheap. It also has to be considered that every child is different and has their own special needs, making it particularly difficult to prepare staff for everything that may come their way.
Cyra said special education could really use more focus at the state level.
“I definitely think that laws need to be rewritten in the educational system, it’s a very broken system but I think that it has potential,” she said.
In 2018 the Texas Education Agency released a new plan to help tackle some of the concerns of special ed parents. That $84 million plan is in action now, but the TEA didn’t respond to requests from Spectrum News 1 for comment on the current state of things.
Ketric Jones said he’d like to see more attention put on the programs across the state, commenting that he sees so much money put to sports programs and other things in the schools while these special ed programs feel like they’re not quite there.
“If you have a football team you have a quarterback coach, you have a linebacker coach, you have a receiving coach,” said Ketric Jones. “We have children with all sorts of different things: where are all of the different coaches for the children?”
Ketric Jones spoke before the Allen school board last month to advocate for his student and others in the district, even brainstorming that an entire special ed school could be made and filled with specialists to meet students’ needs. Since then, he said he’s had a growing number of parents from many different districts joining his cause and trying to come up with ideas to make a better special education scene statewide.
Ketric Jones said he doesn’t want to just make things better for Brock, but for any students like him who shouldn’t have their disabilities stand in the way of a good education.