"The system is broken," said Beth Mitchell, Senior Managing Attorney of Advocacy Inc., an organization that works to protect the rights of Texans with disabilities. "It's very sad that you have a state that is repeatedly told there are problems with the system, yet they don't take actions to fix it."
Mitchell believes staffing issues are a large factor in why the schools are not succeeding.
"It goes back to untrained, underpaid and underqualified staff that are charged with caring for Texas' most vulnerable individuals," said Mitchell. "Without the right components in place, the schools become a haven for abuse and neglect."
"We strongly disagree with the broad statements made by Advocacy, Inc.," said Federov at the Texas Department of Aging and Disability. "Any instance of abuse or neglect of a state school resident is absolutely inexcusable, and we completely reject the claim that no changes or improvements have been made in our state schools in recent years. For example, we have extremely strict reporting policies, which require every possible instance of abuse, neglect or exploitation at state schools be reported to and investigated by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), the agency charged with investigating all such allegations."
Federov also said that in 2007 the schools implemented a zero-tolerance policy for any employee who has a confirmation of abuse or neglect which results in any measure of physical harm to a state school resident. "An employee with such a confirmation from DFPS is fired." She also added that funding for state schools has been increased in each of the past two legislative sessions.
"Actions such as those of the former employees of the Corpus Christi State School are disgusting, unconscionable and inexcusable. In accordance with our zero tolerance policy, those employees were fired less than a week after we learned of the cell phone recordings," said Federov.
The investigation into the suicide at the San Angelo State School is on-going. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services have 14 days to file a report on the case which is classified as high priority because a death occurred. Cases reviewed by the DFPS are designated using priority levels one through four with one being "high" or the most serious.