Most parents, and indeed most teachers and students, see schools as a safe haven. Not so for one special education child at a Texas high school.
Fourteen-year-old Cedric was a student in a special education classroom in Texas in 2002. After years of neglect and malnutrition, the youngster had been taken in by a foster family. On this particular day, Cedric didn’t feel like doing his work, and to discipline him, his teacher chose to delay his lunch. Infuriated by his lack of cooperation, the teacher also put him in a face-down restraint and sat on him in front of the class. As U.S. Representatives George Miller(D- California) and Cathy McMorris (R-Washington) explain: “Cedric said repeatedly that he could not breathe. He died minutes later on the classroom floor.”
This is not an isolated incident. According to a Government Accountability Office report issued in May, over the last twenty years there have been hundreds of allegations of school personnel using restraint and seclusion in abusive ways on children, many of them students with disabilities. (The practices are meant to be used in emergencies when the students are a danger to themselves or others.)
“Something is very wrong when our children are at risk in their own classrooms,” said Miller, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. “In some cases, the abuses these kids are suffering are nothing short of torture inflicted at the hands of the very staff we entrust with their safety.” For this reason, Miller and McMorris on December 9 introduced into the House of Representatives legislation to regulate the use of restraint and seclusion in schools, while Senator Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut) proposed a similar law in the Senate.
Until now, there have been no federal laws to prevent this child abuse at schools. The Children’s Health Act of 2000 regulates how and when restraint and seclusion can be used in medical settings and community facilities, but classrooms are not covered. And state protections for students are all over the map. Education in the U.S. has been largely a matter for individual states, not a federal issue.
Astonishingly, twenty states in the U.S. still allow paddling of children with a wooden paddle for discipline in school.
What’s wrong with the education system in this country? Every industrialized country in the world now prohibits school corporal punishment, except the U.S. and Australia. (In Outback regions only) Yet here, not only do twenty states permit corporal punishment in public schools, but in the 2006 – 2007 school year, 223,190 school children in the U.S. were subjected to physical punishment. And that’s just the cases that were reported.
As the National Assocation of School Psychologists states, “Corporal punishment negatively affects the social, psychological, and educational development of students and contributes to the cycle of child abuse and pro-violence attitudes of youth.” Shouldn’t this be a no-brainer for anyone involved in education?
It’s a sad statement on the U.S. that there has to be a school law banning the use of mechanical restraints, prohibiting the use of restraints that restrict breathing, and forbidding staff members to deny students water, food, clothing, or access to toilet facilities in order to control behavior. But at least we can thank Representatives Miller and McMorris, and Senator Dodd, for introducing this legislation that will begin to address this issue, by outlawing the worst cases. And then we can wonder: what do educators think they are achieving by physically abusing a child?
A school discipline policy should be designed to guarantee the safey of students and staff, create an effective learning environment, foster respect for others, and teach students how to resolve conflicts.
Corporal punishment achieves none of these goals, so why is it still around?
What do you think should be done to deal with this?
Suat Eman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net danobrienmuzika via flickr/creative commons
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