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Texas To Students With Disabilities, Educate Yourself or Become Slave Labor

April 18, 2009

SAILL is a 2-year-old Northeast Austin, Texas charter school dedicated to providing mainstream education to students with disabilities.  Texas can’t keep up or justify funding this necessity.  Texas prefers to relegate mentally disabled students to being exploited by unscrupulous industry.  (wipe your hands now) These two stories are tragically related. Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation (TDMHMR) , which was created in 1965, ceased operations on Sept. 1, 2004. The department worked to improve the quality and efficiency of public and private services and supports for Texans with mental illnesses and with mental retardation so that they can increase their opportunities and abilities to lead lives of dignity and independence was a complicit partner in bartering mentally challenged human beings as cheap labor.  This department should be held responsible for oversight into the consequences of their decisions.

Department of Aging and Disability Services consolidated related services, which seemed a good consolidation at the time.  Years later, the service appears rife with complacency about those they serve.

Texas Agencies need to be better supervised to insure their services remain genuine.  Hmmmm, better supervised?  Now, who would be responsible for THAT!  Would it be our precious, notorious, Texas politicians?  Molly Ivins, rest her soul, had great insight into the polluted, self serving, pocket filling, self inflated  thinking that motivates TEXAS POLITICS. Texas Politicians are STILL reluctant to deal with subjects related to actual responsibility.  Oversight is a scary word for Texas Politicians to swallow.  Create an Agency to deal with irritating details then forget about it.  The list of Texas Agencies with big problems doing what they were designed to do is incredible.  Yes! I am dissing my own state.  Look at what we have.  A bunch of inflated prima donas who strut their stuff in their home districts, then come to Austin to wine and dine each other, make back room deals and fight with each other on the House and Senate floor.

This first shameful article illustrates how easy it is to discard something useful, rather than fix it.

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School serving children with disabilities may be closed

Parents of SAILL‘s 113 students left struggling to find new schools.

AMERICAN-STATESMAN Friday, April 17, 2009 – Now with more than $200,000 in state money unaccounted for and more than $250,000 in debt, SAILL probably will close before the school’s term ends in July. The impending closure leaves saillfamily1parents of SAILL students, many of whom have significant disabilities, struggling to find new schools for their children.

It also is a deep disappointment for parents who believe in the school’s promise of a better education for students with disabilities. In the 2007-08 school year, about 39 percent of SAILL’s students were enrolled in special education programs.  Texas Education Agency

Texas Education Agency officials recommended on Wednesday that SAILL Superintendent Christina Blair notify families of the likely closure so they could make other arrangements for their children.   The school needs about $100,000 to finish the school year, Blair said. She said in a voice mail message Thursday afternoon that SAILL might be able to continue operations until July, but she did not provide details.   State Division of Charter Schools Director Mary Perry said she didn’t know of any public money available to extend SAILL’s operations. SAILL’s entire board of directors resigned this month, citing the school’s management and financial problems.   Internal audits found that SAILL had not prepared a budget or conducted competitive bids for contracts and purchases over $25,000, both violations of state rules. The audits also showed SAILL did not have an inventory tracking system and that cash, credit accounts and general ledgers for the school and the charter holder were mingled, a violation of the school’s charter.

Founding SAILL Superintendent Jamie Judd-Wall also served as executive director of the Austin-based nonprofit Technology and Inclusion, which holds the school’s charter, until being ousted by the board in July 2008 as questions about the management emerged. Judd-Wall could not be reached for comment; her listed phone numbers and earlier known e-mail addresses are not in service.   The education agency is auditing the school, which has about 113 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. An agency spokeswoman said she was unaware of any indications of criminal activity.

In 2008, the school received an academically unacceptable rating under the state accountability system, based largely on student performance on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. But this year, the school seems headed for an acceptable rating, said Barbara Williams, a state monitor assigned to the school.

Charter schools receive state money but are subject to fewer state laws than other schools are. As of December, 66 Texas school charters had been revoked for academic or financial mismanagement, rescinded or voluntarily surrendered.   SAILL parent Christi cv-atalissaSparks wrote in an e-mail that state officials should not let the school close: “Whose fault is it? I don’t care. These children should not have to pay for these mistakes.”

These articles illustrate the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality, prevalent in Texas.  Unfortunately, those responsible pass their mistakes along to the same taxpayers who funded their Agencies in the first place.  So, taxpayers are supposed to keep paying for the same thing over and over while officials are given free ‘mulligans‘.  The second shameful result is the displacement of mental health patients from what started out as a promising alternative to a confined, institutional life.  These citizens are perfectly capable of being productive under responsible conditions.  What began as a reasonable accommodation for these men rapidly deteriorated after the elderly caretakers retired.

Texas officials investigate mentally disabled labor in Iowa turkey plant

Workers were kept in squalid boarding house while bosses took their disability checks, officials say.

AMERICAN-STATESMAN Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Texas-based company has admitted that it kept mentally retarded workers’ government disability checks and paid the men about $65 per month for working in an Iowa turkey processing plant.   Henry’s Turkey Service, a company based out of Goldthwaite, is accused of lodging 21 mentally disabled Texas men in a squalid, roach-filled bunkhouse in rural Atalissa, Iowa, while taking their disability checks, the Des Moines Register reported Wednesday.   After someone called an Iowa state hot line last week, investigators found the men living in 106-year-old building filled with filth and insects, the Associated Press reported.   The home’s windows were boarded up, and some doors were padlocked. Plywood walls were used to keep out the cold.

Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said the former Texas Rehabilitation Commission had a contract starting in at least the 1970s to send mentally disabled people to work for Henry’s. That agency was combined with another group and placed under the Texas Health and Human Services Commission in 2003; the commission hasn’t had any contact with Henry’s in about 10 years, Goodman said.

She said at least some of the men working for Henry’s had Texas Medicaid cards but may not have been using them in Iowa.

Texas attorney general‘s office spokesman Jerry Strickland said his office is actively investigating the matter, but he declined to comment on the specifics of the case.

iowamap233by212pgThe U.S. Department of Labor also announced that it was launching its own investigation into some of Henry’s labor practices.

Company profited from labor of disabled Texans

Employer is accused of pocketing as much as $40,000 in wages a month – A Texas labor broker earned as much as $40,000 a month off the labor of mentally disabled men sent to work in an Iowa meat processing plant, employees told the Houston Chronicle.   Henry’s Turkey Service, based in Goldthwaite, began sending mentally disabled men from Texas to Iowa more than 30 years ago to work in turkey processing plants.   a week after officials removed 21 of the men living in a converted schoolhouse in eastern Iowa, details of how they toiled long hours for a mere $65 a month while their employer is accused of pocketing the rest is becoming more clear.

The men’s caretakers at the bunkhouse, Randy and Dru Neubauer, said they were also responsible for sending the men’s timesheets and the money paid to Henry’s by the plant, West Liberty Foods, to Texas.

Neubauer said from $7,000 to $10,000 in wages were earned each week by the 21 men.

Henry’s also had the men’s federal disability checks signed directly over to them for their care. The mentally disabled can qualify for up to $674 a month from the Social Security Administration.

Henrys Turkey Service, can teach YOU how to exploit the mentally disabled for big-time KA-CHING! Just call them “Henry’s Boys”. Hill Country Farms affiliate, Henry’s Turkey Service has a cattle ranch in Goldthwaite, Texas that they claim the 21 men will be retired to. West Liberty Foods was the first employer for these men.

Records: state knew of turkey farm’s operations

The men, all employees of Henry’s Turkey Service and its parent company, Hill Country Farms, were leased as contract workers to West Liberty Foods, a prominent Iowa turkey processor.

And though Texas and federal officials have said they had little or no prior knowledge of the operation, the plaques on Johnson’s wall and the recollections and records of those in Goldthwaite instead reveal a long history of the government’s awareness and oversight.

It was a decades-old arrangement born out of the state of Texas’ desire for farms to take their older, mentally challenged wards off their hands. It was one of the earliest attempts to place such men with employers, said Robert Womack, a Goldthwaite welder who once worked at Hill Country Farms and helped convert the Atalissa school building into a dormitory for the men.

“The state of Texas approached him (Johnson),” recalled Womack, 63, of how Hill Country Farms began hiring mentally disabled men in the 1960s.

In exchange for their work, the men would live in rooms inside a bunkhouse that now sits unoccupied behind the Johnsons’ home. Each of the rooms has two beds, lockable closets, a microwave and shower. Each was to be paid $60.03 a month. The rest of their wages, and the federal disability checks they received, were to be used toward their room and board, to Hill Country Farms.

Although state officials insist no records of this arrangement exist, Jane Ann Johnson’s office wall and her own records tell a different story.

On the wall is a framed commendation from former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes. A 1987 certificate from the old Texas Rehabilitation Commission hangs nearby. A plaque from an organization known in 1968 as the National Association for Retarded Children also thanks Johnson for his efforts.  The city of Atalissa has rented the bunkhouse to Henry’s for $600 a month. Henry’s pays for maintenance of the interior and the city shares the expense on exterior care.   Atalissa mayor Joe Blick said no housing, health, fire or rental inspections of the bunkhouse have taken place.    Former Mayor Don Passmore said that when the city partnered with Henry’s, no one questioned how the company was paying its workers. “No, you see, that’s something we absolutely never, ever got involved with,” he said. “Never. So there was no way of ever really knowing what took place there.” Thurman “T.H.” Johnson of Texas ran Henry’s Turkey Service for decades, as well as an affiliate called Hill Country Farms, according to corporate records. After Johnson died in 2008, his longtime business partner, Kenneth J. Henry, took over. Henry declined to answer questions from the Register.

It was sometime in the mid-1960s that the old Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation approached Johnson about placing older men from their state school system at the farm. The state was interested in emptying its beds of older teens and young men to make room for the next generation of mentally impaired children.

“Everybody wants to think it’s a money-making deal. But a lot of the boys, lots of them grown men or better, they were victims,” Womack said. “Their parents didn’t want them.”

Takes advantage of Mentally Ill persons.

State inspectors have shut down a building that housed mentally retarded men brought from Texas to work in a West Liberty turkey processing plant.  The Des Moines Register reported in a copyrighted story on Sunday that the state investigation focuses on Henry’s Turkey Service, the Texas-based company that has employed dozens of 34120623mentally challenged men to work in the meat-processing plant since the 1970s.   The Des Moines Register reports that the state fire marshal’s office has shut down the building that housed the 21 men, called “the bunkhouse,” a 106-year-0ld building in Atalissa.   The plant acted as the men’s employer, landlord and caregiver. Payroll records obtained by the Register show the men were left with as little as $65 per month in salary.

No Talking Turkey: Exploitation of Disabled Workers

Turkey Company Pays Disabled Workers $0.44 an Hour

DHS documents show that state looked into Iowa turkey factory’s use of developmentally disabled workers in 1970s

Complaint about Atalissa bunkhouse was rejected Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, “Some people had worked there as long as 30 years and all they’ve got to show for it is like 80 bucks. Many of them were getting paid $65 a month, which came down to 44 cents an hour,” he said. “Doesn’t this shock the conscience of everyone? I mean this is pretty close to slavery.”

Disabilities advocates aim to banish ‘R-word’ – ‘Retarded’ no longer acceptable term, advocates say.

Ugly retard. Stupid retard. Slow retard.  Challenged individuals are taunted in school cafeterias, classrooms and hallways; by relatives, classmates and strangers; at home, in public and in front of friends. And it always hurts.   The R-word, as disabilities advocates call it, is the target of a national campaign to eliminate its use in both government and casual conversation. Through legislation and public relations campaigns, they’re trying to change the country’s vocabulary.

HAT TIP to State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who is pushing a bill that would ban terms including “mental retardation” in all state statutes and resolutions and replace them with such phrases as “intellectual disabilities.” The Austin Travis County Mental Health Mental Retardation Center plans to rename itself without the phrase “mental retardation.”

Not all Texas Politicians forget that however large or small the community they represent, they make rules and laws that impact ALL Texans.  What may seem insignificant or irritating to some politicians has a direct or indirect impact on everyone in the state.  There are progressive districts and ultra conservative districts that must be satisfied with decisions that effect the whole state.  That means compromise, accountability and paying attention to the Agencies and policies created on behalf of all Texans.  The Texas Youth Commission and TxDOT are prime examples of gross mismanagement and lax accountability.  But for the grace of higher power go you, me or our children.

The arrangement for these mentally disabled men began as a ‘win, win’ alternative that offered them a productive niche in society and a form of freedom not available in a structure mental health setting.  That was in the mid 1960s.  But, as with too many good ideas, it turned sour.  No one was willing to hold the company accountable for the conditions these men lived in.  No one was willing to inspect accommodations for safety violations.  No one was willing to assess the monetary compensation to these workers.  These men are not predisposed to ask questions anyway.  Safety was the issue that never crossed their mind.   Fire safety, hygiene safety so conveniently overlooked would cause me to question the same safety conditions in their food processing facilities.  With all the money they are saving on labor they would, obviously, be able to grease the palms of many officials.  This whole episode is so sad for these guys.  The town obviously accepted them and called them ‘their sweet boys’.  I hope the media keeps track of all the players in this story, especially those “sweet boys”.

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