Two Aldine ISD staff members were in court on Thursday, December 4, to answer to abuse charges that were filed against them regarding an incident that left a mentally-challenged 15 year-old student in a wheelchair with a broken leg and toe, and afraid to return to his classes.
Taja Holly, 26, a substitute teacher, and Sandra Burton, 55, were employed by the Northeast Houston school district as paraprofessionals working with special needs children, the Houston Chronicle reported.
The two school employees were accused of hitting the severely handicapped teen and pushing him to the ground in the school gym. He was trying to reach out and communicate with another special needs student, at the time of the incident on September 17.
The male student whose name has been kept private was previously diagnosed with severe intellectual disability, autistic disorder, chromosomal anomaly, disruptive behavior disorder, Lennox Gastaut Syndrome, static encephalopathy and receptive-expressive language disorder. The family said he has the intellectual capacity of a 2-year-old, according to KPRC-2 Houston.
The TV news outlet also reported that following the incident, the boy was having trouble sleeping, was terrified to return to school and wouldn't even wear the same clothes he had on the day of the incident.
The entire incident was captured on surveillance video.
However, the victim's family accused the school of trying to cover up the alleged abuse footage.
"They keep on telling us, 'Nothing happened here, nothing happened here, there's no video, (there's) no video,'" the victim's sister told KPRC-2.
The victim's sister described her brother as a "big boy but he's very sweet." She said that he had no history of being violent.
She also stated that she and their mother met with the principal of Aldine High and asked to see the video. They claimed that the principal initially insisted the footage didn't exist. The family also indicated that the principal later accidentally played the surveillance video showing the alleged abuse, according to KPRC-2.
Burton and Holly had told school administrators that the student was being violent, had struck Burton in the face and was attempting to push the student in the wheelchair out of the gym.
Burton alleged that she intervened in an alleged altercation between the two students and ended up assaulting the victim with what is referred to as a "haymaker" style strike on the child's arm, the Houston Chronicle also reported.
However, after viewing the video, their statements were found to be false. Investigators including Aldine ISD police noted that the victim was not violent. did not hit Burton or push the other student.
KPRC-2 reported that the surveillance revealed only that the special needs student, was trying to interact with another special needs student in a wheelchair inside the school gym.
Following Burton's strike, the student attempted to swat back at Burton when it was alleged that Holly knocked him to the ground, where he injured his head and leg.
The video showed that the boy stumbled to the ground and his right leg struck the gym floor. He also hit the right side of his head and was taken to Texas Children's Hospital. An assistant principal later identified the two adult women in the video as Burton and Holly," the Houston Chronicle also reported.
The court records also quoted a child psychiatrist as saying that the injured student now suffers from "school phobia" and is frightened to return to school. He remains under the care of a doctor for his broken leg and is using a wheelchair, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Both Holly and Burton were charged with injury to a disabled individual, according to the Harris County Court records.
Ryan McLearen, Harris County Assistant District Attorney, told KPRC-2 that the injury to the disabled is a second-degree felony. He said that could result in a punishment of 2-20 years, if convicted.
Holly was set free on $5,000 bond. Burton's bond was also set at $5,000. She remained in county custody at the time of this report.
Later in a written statement, Burton admitted that she hit the victim and said that she had let the student get the "best of her."
KPRC-2 reported that Aldine ISD also released a subsequent statement on the incident that read, "There was an incident involving a paraprofessional and a substitute assigned to a special needs class. Aldine police and campus administrators have been involved with investigations. Aldine police presented evidence to the district attorney who accepted charges. Aldine ISD has been following our process for investigating the allegations involving staff.
This type of conduct is unacceptable and our district remains committed to ensuring that all our students are provided a safe learning environment. We will continue cooperating with the proper authorities in this matter."
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom
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