Austin ISD principal’s use of force under scrutiny

AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin Independent School District principal is facing complaints for her use of force while disciplining students.

Bailey Middle School Principal Julia Fletcher was investigated by AISD police and Child Protection Services in 2013 after she shoved a student.  Bailey Middle School teacher John Adams says he witnessed it happen.

“My principal was hitting a child so hard in his chest  just as hard as she could and that the kid was just crumpled over,” said Adams. He and one of the child’s parents filed complaints with AISD police and CPS.

Fletcher never received any discipline by the district.  An AISD police report says Fletcher “used physical force on the student, shoving him.” The report says the principal’s actions were  “justified to prevent the student from disrupting normal conduct of nearby classes.”  It goes on to say “the  student was cursing and refusing to follow the principal down the hallway when she used the physical force against him.”

KXAN asked CPS what happened with that complaint. A spokesperson says CPS “acts solely as an investigator, turning over the results to school authorities to take whatever action they deem appropriate.”

According to AISD police, what Fletcher did was perfectly legal. The report cites state law, which allows “educators to use force against a student when the educator believes the force is necessary to maintain discipline.”  That law has been on the books since 1973.

AISD police say they are now investigating another incident from 2012 in which a former assistant principal, Cele Ortega, says he saw Fletcher assault a special ed student while she was trying to take his cell phone away.  In his complaint, Ortega says Fletcher pushed the student against some shelves; when his phone fell to the ground and the scuffle ended, the student had blood and scratches on his hand.

An AISD spokesperson discounts Ortega’s claims, describing him as a disgruntled former employee.

Through an open records request, KXAN obtained 63 pages of complaints against Fletcher, filed by students, parents and teachers during her years at Bailey Middle School.

In 2010, Fletcher was also named in a lawsuit that cost AISD more than $400,000.   In that lawsuit, AISD was  found to have retaliated against teachers who were working at Bailey Middle School.

Fletcher initially agreed to speak with KXAN on camera about the allegations, but later changed her mind. She is retiring from the district in July.