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Death of San Antonio special education assistant leads to calls for increased safety protocols

A sign on the side of a brick building identifying it as the Northside ISD administration building.
Camille Phillips
Texas Public Radio

On Feb. 7, instructional assistant Alfred Jimenez fell and hit his head on the floor while working in a classroom for students with cognitive disabilities at Brandeis High School in the Northside Independent School District.

According to district officials, an interaction with a student caused him to fall and hit his head. He died of his injuries 10 days later.

Jimenez was known on campus as “Mr. Fred.” He was 73 when he died, and he had worked for San Antonio’s largest school district for the past 10 years.

In a joint statement sent two days after the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s office recorded his death, Northside ISD Superintendent John Craft and Brandeis High School Principal Geri Berger said the entire school was “grieving his loss.”

“His impact on the campus was far reaching and impacted students and staff both in and out of the classroom,” they said. “Our heartfelt condolences go out to the Jimenez Family during this challenging time.”

According to Northside spokesman Barry Perez, Jimenez was taken to the hospital by ambulance immediately after he was hurt, and the district’s police department is investigating the incident. Northside ISD Police Chief Charlie Carnes told KENS5 that his death had been ruled a homicide.

But amid the grief and shock, for Northside employees there’s another concern: What if it happens again?

“We really need swift action to occur so this is not the fate of any other educators in our district or in our state, or even in our country,” said Melina Espiritu-Azocar, the president of the Northside chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

A head shot of Alfred Jimenez showing a smiling man with grey hair, a mustache wearing a navy polo shirt.
Courtesy photo
Northside ISD
Alfred Jimenez worked as an instructional assistant for Northside ISD from 2014 until his death at age 73.

Espiritu-Azocar said she’s fielded numerous calls from union members since Jimenez was hurt.

“The biggest piece that I keep hearing from them is, 'That could have been me.' Or, 'That can be me,'” Espiritu-Azocar said.

Their fear is that the circumstances that led to Jimenez’s death are systemic.

Espiritu-Azocar said her members don’t blame the student or staff for his death, but they’re afraid it could happen again.

“Fred was an excellent instructional assistant who had a lot of experience working with students with special needs,” said Espiritu-Azocar, who use to work with him. “It's a very terrible tragedy for somebody like Fred to have had his life ended in such a terrible way.”

She said schools need more training, staff, mental health support, and robust safety protocols for special education settings.

“That might mean that there is more staff provided into a classroom where there's maybe a student that can have violent tendencies or outbursts or that needs more one on one support,” Espiritu-Azocar said. “We need to make sure that classrooms, especially self-contained classrooms like the one that Mr. Jimenez was in, in specialized settings, are staffed properly. And not just based on numbers, but based on the needs of the students in those classrooms.”

Espiritu-Azocar said the problem is exacerbated by difficulties hiring and keeping enough special education teachers and assistants.

“This is a funding issue at the end of the day. Staffing issues are based on funding issues,” Espiritu-Azocar said. “We need to pay a living wage to our instructional support staff.”

Because of the need for more funding, Espiritu-Azocar said it is especially frustrating to see state leaders withhold funding for public education in order to pass school vouchers.

They need to stop using students and staff as pawns in this game that they're playing,” Espiritu-Azocar said.

Texas hasn’t increased funding for public schools since 2019. Funding for public schools was added to bills that would create a school voucher program after Gov. Greg Abbott said he wouldn’t sign a school funding increase until vouchers passed. Despite the pressure — and with the support of public education advocates — a majority of state lawmakers held firm against vouchers last year.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Education News Desk, including H-E-B Helping Here, Betty Stieren Kelso Foundation and Holly and Alston Beinhorn.

Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org or on Instagram at camille.m.phillips. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.