ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) – An administrator is no longer working at a school for special education students in Round Rock, Texas, after a surveillance video appeared to show him grabbing a 14-year-old student and then tossing him into a room where the student hit his head on the wall.
Since May, the Texas Education Agency said it has been investigating the administrator for misconduct, although the agency said it could not share the nature of the investigation.
The Round Rock Independent School District said its investigation is complete, but said the outcome is a confidential personnel matter.
District officials said the administrator is still employed and working on administrative projects at the central office but is no longer assigned to the campus where the incident happened.
The student’s mother, Tatiana Alfano, provided email records showing on the day of the incident school officials said her son was sent to the “cool -down room” inside the district’s GOALS Learning Center, a campus for special needs students with the primary disability of emotional disturbance.
According to an email from the school’s special education behavior services director, the student was sent to the room because he was “yelling at the teacher and using profanity directed at the teacher.” Hallway surveillance video shows the student trying to push past two female teachers to get back into the classroom. The teachers then grab him by his arms and escort him to the cool-down room.
A second video shows the student leaning against the wall of the cool-down room with his arms crossed, while the two teachers stand at the door for more than a minute. Soon after, the administrator walks to the door where the teachers are standing.
When the two teachers begin to walk away, the student starts to leave the room. Then, the video shows the employee grabbing the student and tossing him back into the space. The video shows the student hit his head on the wall.
After the student’s head hits the wall, the video shows him get up and start to gesture with a punching motion towards the employees. The recording does not show the student punching any of the staff. The school’s report on the incident said the student spit in the staff’s face after hitting his head.
Soon after, the video shows two of the employees, including the administrator, restrain the student on the ground for more than four minutes. He can be heard screaming “I hate it here.”
The administrator has not answered our requests asking for comment.
KXAN obtained this Round Rock ISD surveillance footage from the mother of the student seen in it. It was originally obtained by the family’s attorney during the course of this case and verified by the district. WARNING: It contains video some viewers may find sensitive.
In the email from the special education director to the student’s mother that day, administrators said “staff moved him back toward the cool-down room. He fell and hit his head.”
Ten days after the incident, Alfano viewed the surveillance video, according to email records.
“I thought this was a discipline problem I had to follow through with here at home and I was prepared to do that, but [my son] said ‘No, you are not listening, Mom. He threw me into a wall’ — and even I dismissed him,” Alfano said. “I think he felt a huge sense of relief.”
“I felt a huge sense of guilt,” she added.
Records show the district reported the incident to the Texas Department of Children and Families on May 10 — the day after Alfano watched the video. The Texas Education Agency said the State Board of Educator Certification received a report from the district about the administrator on the following day, May 11.
“Why did it have to wait until I saw it?” Alfano asked.
A Round Rock ISD spokesperson said Monday, “The timing of the reports [is] unrelated to when the parent viewed the video. The reports were made as soon as district administration had the information necessary through the investigation.”
Records show the Texas Department of Children and Families already ruled out abuse.
“I filed a complaint. I ran that all the way up the chain and I was told by several people that it is just not abuse because over the last few years the definition of abuse has changed,” Alfano said. “The outcome was he wasn’t hurt bad enough to qualify as abuse.”
Alfano also believes it was illegal for the school official to prevent her son from leaving the “cool-down room.”
The legal term for the practice of isolating students, particularly those with special needs, is “timeout” under the Texas Education Code.
The law prevents school officials from locking the door to the space or physically blocking the exit. TEA guidelines also state students should not be “physically prevented from leaving.”
Alfano has hired an attorney and said she wants to seek policy and legislative changes because of this incident, including requirements that districts bring in mental health professionals following a restraint or timeout.
A study done in 2020 by the legal service organization Disability Rights Texas found students with disabilities in Texas experienced 91% of all reported restraints.
“I would take on the whole world for my son. I kind of feel like that is where I am at right now. I do want to make legislative changes to protect … and now, like I said, it is bigger than just [my son],” Alfano said.