Monday, March 16, 2009

More Problems at Texas State Schools

In an effort to guarantee the safety of residents of Texas state schools, state officials made surprise overnight visits to every state school and began installing security cameras and other measures designed to protect residents. But it's clear that Texas state schools are still woefully underfunded:

...advocates for people with disabilities said the safety bill, which creates an ombudsman to oversee abuse and neglect investigations, and requires employees to submit to random drug tests and fingerprinting, doesn't go far enough – particularly in light of the fight-club revelations. They say security guards and surveillance cameras are a Band-Aid on a state school system that is in crisis, and that is so strapped for cash it must hire inexperienced, unprofessional employees.

"An environment that breeds such atrocities is unfixable," said Jeff Garrison-Tate, a former Advocacy Inc. investigator who now runs the non-profit Community Now. "This so-called fight club bears witness to a new low in Texas. You can't even make this stuff up."

DADS Commissioner Addie Horn, who gave lengthy and at one point tearful testimony at Thursday's hearing, acknowledged that many direct-care workers "still make less than what you can make at Wal-Mart or McDonalds."

A News search of the state's employee database indicates all of those charged in the Corpus Christi fight club were entry-level workers who made an annual salary of $22,000 or less, and had been employed by the facility for fewer than two years.

In addition, the article details staged fights that took place at other State schools over the last several years. And it remains clear that residents of these schools remain vulnerable to further abuse or neglect:

State officials have found no wrongdoing in the death of a 53-year-old Denton State School resident who passed away at a Fort Worth hospital on Friday.

But the Tarrant County medical examiner's office has ruled the death of Janice Campbell a homicide, noting that she died from a closed head injury during an assault on March 5.

State officials allege that an accidental collision between two residents resulted in a fall that killed Campbell, but it's nearly impossible to take that report at face value. The response thus far on the part of Texas lawmakers is to throw more money at the schools, though a recent U.S. Department of Justice report makes it clear that meaningful reform can only take place by moving residents out of public institutions and into community settings where they are less vulnerable and their needs can be more adequately met.  

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