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'We’re not happy' | HISD parent worried about dismantling of HISD's autism support team

HISD said students with autism and other special needs will continue to be adequately served.

HOUSTON — Four-year-old twins Natalie and Sydney share most characteristics, including autism.

"One is moderate, one is severe,” their mother, Karel Lopez, said.

Lopez said the latter is especially challenging.

“Severe means they have a lot of behavioral issues, sometimes they’re non-verbal,” Lopez said.

The family lives next to Shadowbriar Elementary, where the twins get specialized attention. But now, there’s news of a shakeup.

"And we’re not happy,” Lopez said.

Multiple sources told us the Houston Independent School District was dismantling its autism support team within the special education department and that contract employees who, among other things help train teachers, would lose their jobs.

"Have they thought out the whole process?" Lopez said. "Do they know how it’s going to affect the special needs children?”

Lopez is active in the group Autism Moms of Houston while the statewide Autism Society of Texas also reacted, generally, to planned changes.

"People are always going to think the worst,” AST Executive Director Jacquie Benestante said.

She said kids with autism can fall through the cracks without adequate intervention.

"There’s multiple things going on and when you don’t have the right diagnosis and the right support, it just exacerbates all of the problems for everybody,” Benestante said.

Lopez said she's considering a shift for the sake of her twins without knowing exactly what lies ahead.

“We are considering moving from this district because of that,” Lopez said.

HISD said students with autism and other special needs would continue to be adequately served.

The district sent this statement late in the day on Monday:

HISD Response

We will provide support for all students with special education needs, including students with autism as part of the Unit Support Model. This model moves supports for special education needs from the central office and puts them within the divisions. The Unit model provides a Director of Special Education, two coordinators, and a manager assigned to a specific feeder pattern of schools within each Division. This model allows support to be closer to the assigned campuses and enables staff to provide more focused supports to a smaller number of schools.

All of these staff members remain on the District payroll. Staff members who held the title of Itinerant Teacher now have an opportunity to interview for the positions within the new structure. If placed in the Unit Structure, these itinerant teachers - whose job was to coach and support SLC teachers district-wide - will still provide support and coaching but to a much more defined group of campuses. Those who don’t take a position in the Unit Structure will be offered a special education position at campuses with special education vacancies.

With more than 1,800 campus and central office employees dedicated to special education, support for students goes beyond this restructuring. Last week all SLC teachers were provided with opportunities to participate in SLC-specific professional development, and all teachers and support staff can continue to access additional coaching and professional development throughout the school year. In addition, the district is currently participating in the “Support for Students with Autism” grant, which provides SLC teachers with opportunities to visit model SLC classrooms throughout the district.

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