HOUSTON (CN) — Parents of an autistic child sued a Texas school district this week, claiming that when he resisted a teacher’s efforts to “save” him through religion, she falsely reported him for making a terrorist threat and got him thrown in jail.
Kenneth and Lisa McMillen and their son Christopher McMillen sued the New Caney Independent School District, its superintendent and other district employees on Tuesday in Houston Federal Court. New Caney, pop. 20,000, is 32 miles north of Houston, on Interstate 69.
His parents are Chris’s guardians. Though he recently turned 18, Texas considers him an incapacitated adult. But his parents say he is not mentally handicapped. “As acknowledged by the defendants, Chris is a highly intelligent young man,” the complaint states.
The McMillens say in the Tuesday lawsuit that Chris started attending a New Caney ISD preschool in 2003 at age 4, and the district successfully managed his behavior problems with individualized education programs.
Public school districts have to create these programs for disabled students to give them the same educational opportunities as other students, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The McMillens say the education plan the district offered Chris in August 2015 was “woefully inadequate” and amounted to “throwing up their hands and declaring Chris to be a bad and dangerous kid.”
The McMillens filed administrative complaints and grievances, but say the district refused to change Chris’s education program.
Chris’s high school English teacher, defendant Margaret Hudman, decided he needed some religion and she began counseling him in private meetings that “were certainly not within her scope of work as Chris’s English teacher,” according to the complaint.
“Although defendant Hudman has no professional training as a psychologist, defendant Hudman took it upon herself to save Chris, both in spiritual and behavioral contexts,” the lawsuit states.
The McMillens say Hudman’s lessons on Christianity were “extremely harmful” to their son, and that Hudman became righteously indignant when she realized she was not getting through to him.
“Hudman apparently determined (singularly in her mind) that Chris was incapable of being saved and decided to have him ostracized from society. On or about September 15, 2015, defendant Hudman falsely reported that Chris was threatening to kill people,” the complaint states.
The school district’s police officers arrested Chris and the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office charged him with making a terroristic threat, a felony. He was jailed for three days in the county’s juvenile lockup.
The McMillens say that three days after Hudman filed the false report about Chris, she filed a bogus complaint against them with Child Protective Services.
Desperate to get their son’s criminal charges dropped, the McMillens say, they struck a deal with the district attorney’s office, in which they agreed to never again enroll Chris in a New Caney ISD school and to pay for his mental health care.
The McMillens say that before they agreed to this “extorted deal,” Ken McMillen talked to defendant assistant principal Bridgett Ann Heine about trying to get Chris back into the high school.
“Heine told plaintiff Ken: ‘If you return Chris to this school, [we] will just pursue additional charges,” the filing states. (Brackets in complaint.)
The McMillens seek punitive damages for conspiracy, extortion, infliction of emotional distress and civil rights violations. They also seek a declaration that federal law requires New Caney ISD to educate Chris until he is 22.
They are represented by Donald Henslee in Austin.
New Caney ISD did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
New Caney is in the piney woods of East Texas, in Montgomery County, part of Greater Houston and home to the nation’s fastest-growing city, Conroe, the county seat.