MABTON, Wash. — Jaylyn Cisneros practices reading the letter A in Braille at her Yakima County kitchen table.
"A. A. A. A. A," she mumbles, as her mother, Cindy Cisneros, cheers over the teen's shoulder, rewarding her with a single cashew.
The 13-year-old Mabton student is blind and developmentally delayed. She's learning to read the first 10 letters of the alphabet, with help from her new Braille-certified teacher who Skypes with her twice a week.
But Jaylyn's parents believe the soon-to-be high school freshman would be much farther along, if the Mabton School District didn't violate special education and discrimination laws.
For the first time, Jaylyn is receiving consistent instruction from a teacher who is qualified to educate students who are blind, as state law requires. But it took a formal complaint and a 2017 settlement agreement with the district for Jaylyn to get this basic right.
"We’re trying to catch up. Had she had that (instruction) before, who knows where she would be?” Cisneros said. "She really should have had an hour of Braille every day — just like any other student would have English and math (class) for at least an hour a day."
A review of Jaylyn's education records reveals her actual instruction didn't even come close to the daily Braille lessons professionals said she needed. According to her school records, Jaylyn worked with a teacher for the blind once a month in the 2015-2016 school year — even though learning Braille was among her greatest needs.
E-mail exchanges between Mabton educators show that the Braille machine Jaylyn used frequently stopped working. And teaching assistants complained to their superiors that they lacked a specialized curriculum and the training needed to adequately teach her and other students with severe disabilities.
Jaylyn's story shines a light on a broken special education system within the Mabton School District. For years, district officials violated state and federal special ed laws, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) — the law that guarantees the right of all students with disabilities to receive the specialized services they need to reach their full potential in school.
In July, a KING 5 investigation first exposed a pattern of district failures that affected Anthony Moran — a 17-year-old non-verbal student with autism — and an unknown number of other students with the most severe disabilities, including Jaylyn.
Officials dismissed those students from school early for at least a decade. They also denied some students access to assistive technology and disability specialists who provide instruction that is critical for student progress, according to a KING 5 review of more than 700 pages of Mabton education records and legal documents.
But the Eastern Washington district did more than fail to educate those students with special needs. Administrators tried to cover up their shortcomings. A new KING 5 investigation found that Mabton officials:
- Falsified documents, including legally binding education plans
- Withheld information from parents and deceived them about the services their children received
- Fired an employee who tried to expose what was happening
"It's the most egregious (school district) that I've come across because of the number of issues and the length of time that the issues have gone on," said Kerri Feeney, a Richland-based attorney who has represented the families of four Mabton special education students in the last year, including Jaylyn.