CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (CN) – A psychologist claims she was fired for criticizing the placement of sex offenders at a Texas school for the disabled that has been mired in controversy since authorities discovered a staff-sanctioned “fight club” in 2009.
The Corpus Christi State School is a residential facility for people with mental and physical handicaps administered by the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS).
In 2009, six members of the school staff were charged with staging “fight club” matches between residents after police uncovered a cellphone with videos of the abuse.
A new federal lawsuit now claims that the staged fights were just a flash point in a history of abuse at the school.
“In 2007, the Corpus Christi State School had 1,013 incidents of injury, abuse, neglect and/or exploitation of its residents and in 2008 had 313 incident investigations,” former school psychologist Janet Carlow claims.
Carlow says she was fired after speaking out against the abuse at a public hearing convened by a state representative in the wake of a resident’s 2007 suicide.
At the hearing, Carlow allegedly challenged a DADS plan to bring “inappropriate persons to the state school, including documented sex offenders to be placed there as residents.”
She also claims to have voiced safety concerns over the DADS resident admission process, which mixes resident populations by “placing aggressive persons with persons who could not defend themselves.”
Corpus Christi public television aired the hearing, giving the public its first notice about the plan to house sex offenders at the school, according to the complaint.
In retaliation, school administrators allegedly transferred Carlow to a unit with residents who had a higher level of disability, and nearly doubled her case load.
Then in January 2009, though she had no prior discipline on her record, they put Carlow on one-year probation, she says.
Carlow also claims to have spoken at a September 2010 public meeting over the school’s settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice. Two state representatives and the DADS commissioner and an assistant commissioner allegedly attended this meeting.
This time, Carlow complained that administrators had prioritized paperwork over resident care, “to make the school look good in the investigation when the staff’s greater need was to work directly with the residents who needed care,” according to the complaint.
Carlow says she also exposed DADS budget issues, such as its training of psychologists in applied behavior analysis. Since conflicting guidelines preclude practice of this analysis at the Corpus Christi State School, it was a wasteful to force staff members to study it, according to the complaint.
Angered by this speech, and worried that Carlow was making them look bad to DADS officials, the school denied Carlow a promotion and then fired her, according to the suit.
Carlow sued the school’s director Mark Cazalas, its clinical services director Robert Cramer, its behavior services director Judy Sutton and psychologist Daniel Rivera.
She seeks reinstatement of her position, salary and benefits, as well as back pay and punitive damages, for violations of her civil rights.
Carlow is represented by Chris McJunkin.