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Kentucky School Stuffs Autistic Boy Into a Bag

Kentucky School Stuffs Autistic Boy Into a Bag

Not only was 9-year-old Christopher Baker placed in a bag and the drawstring tied on December 14 at Mercer County Intermediate School in Harrodsburg in central Kentucky, but it wasn’t even the first time. This inhumane and inappropriate treatment had been previously used on Christopher, who’s autistic and in a special education program. His parents had not been informed.

On that December morning last week, Christopher’s mother, Sandra Baker, heard him say “‘Momma, is that you?’” from inside the duffel bag and found him “stuffed” in it; she said “‘his poor little eyes were as big as half dollars and he was sweating.’” An aide had been standing beside the bag and told Baker that she thought Christopher had been in it for about 20 minutes, but she was not exactly sure how long.

According to the Associated Press (via the San Jose Mercury News), school officials told Baker that Christopher had been placed in what they call the “therapy bag” because he had been “‘jumping off the walls.’” She met with school officials a few days after the incident and was “told the boy had smirked at the teacher when he was told to put down a basketball, then threw it across the room.”

What happened to Christopher makes it all too clear why we need national guidelines about the use of restraints and seclusion in public schools, and especially regarding students with disabilities. Such students may be “misbehaving” (as the Mercer County school district put it) for reasons such as sensory overload, frustration or anxiety, and not be able to communicate their feelings and needs effectively in language (indeed, some students, like my 14-year-old son Charlie are minimally or non-verbal). Furthermore, parents should be informed immediately after restraints or seclusion are used on a child, and parents and the student’s Child Study Team need to meet and discuss pro-active strategies to address difficult behaviors.

Earlier this week, Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin filed the “Keeping All Students Safe Act”, which closely resembles a bill filed by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., in April. While Miller’s bill passed the House of Representations, it was not taken up by the Senate; Harkin’s bill still needs cosponsors, as Nirva Shah writes on Edweek’s On Special Education blog. Some of what the bill would provide are the following:

…ban the use of physical restraints except in emergency situations; prohibit physical restraints that affect a student’s primary means of communication; forbid putting seclusion or restraint into a student’s individualized education program or IE; require states to collect data on the use of the measures, and ask schools to meet with parents and staff after a restraint is used and plan interventions that would prevent their use in the future.

Kentucky does not have laws regarding the use of restraints and seclusion in its public schools, according to its Department of Education’s website. Back in July, a state agency had sent a letter to special education directors, describing two formal complaints that the state had received:

In one, “a student (was) nearly asphyxiated while being restrained,” and in the other, a student vomited from panic attacks after spending most of an academic year “confined to a closet, with no ventilation or outside source of light,” according to the letter.

The punitive, degrading and simply uncalled for treatment of Christopher Baker — placed in a bag that was drawn shut — sounds like some horrific torture method from ancient or medieval times. We need to enact legislation like the “Keeping All Students Safe Act” to ensure that our students who have some of the greatest challenges are protected, treated with dignity and taught, not tormented.


Related Care2 Coverage

Basket Holds & Take Downs: Restraints in Public Schools Need More Scrutiny

Bungee Cords & Duct Tape Used to Restrain Autistic Students in PA

The Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act (H.R. 4247) Passes


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1:31AM PDT on Apr 2, 2013

This is so do you do that to a child with a disability? Surely there are several other ways to deal with this kind of situation??

3:36AM PST on Feb 6, 2013

This is an appalling instance of abuse by a teacher. It was a gross overreaction to a discipline problem, and a duffel bag is in no way a safe therapy device for calming down a child who is actually too wound up to follow the classroom rules. However, a law prohibiting the use of isolation rooms and spaces for children with special needs is not the answer. Many children on the autism spectrum can self-recognize when they need to use the space to keep from escalating too much, and it's useful for that space to be neutral, silent and solitary. There should never be a lock on the door or any closure that cannot be accessed from the inside too. Putting a child - or anyone in a duffel bag is so incredibly wrong and traumatic and has have emotional repercussions written all over it.

8:20AM PDT on Mar 29, 2012

This was a special education teacher? Wow! Where did he or she get their training? I know that with budget cuts a lot of these classrooms are over crowded without enough aid for these teachers, but this kind of punishment of students should not be allowed.
Have you ever put a child in a corner? Try it on yourself, see how you feel, you will never do it again. Put that teacher in the bag, and see what the reaction the teacher would have at being confined like that.

9:13AM PDT on Mar 16, 2012

why are laws needed to get TEACHERS to treat kids like humans instead of animals?!? its common sense not to put a kid (or animal!) in a bag! what on EARTH are people THINKING?!?

8:16PM PST on Mar 10, 2012

This is so hard to believe happening in 2012. It's like one of those old movies of the way patients in a mental hospital were "kept." Training in autism is a must for school teachers, because when they "misbehave," it is not like when a child misbehaves, knowingly. This is too awful.

10:23PM PST on Feb 28, 2012

THIS IS A REPREHENSIBLE OUTRAGE!! I have heard of other incidents of forced restraint, but this is one of the most horrible yet! And I cannot believe an aide stood next to that bag, obviously feeling just fine and dandy knowing Christopher was in there! All adults involved in this incident should absolutely be fired!! And I hope the entire lot is sued for physical, mental and emotional abuse done to this poor boy!

My 9-year old has Asperger's. Even before his diagnosis, I never wanted him in public school, due to the inherent dangers (i.e.bullying), overcrowding in the classrooms, one-style fits all teaching, etc. I am so grateful that he has never had to be at the mercy of cruel, heartless people such as these. My heart goes out to all the children who suffer for any reason in the school setting.

8:58AM PST on Jan 20, 2012

Please sign the following petition to help advance education in the world, and make school staff/teachers more sensitive to children diagnosed with ADHD ..

7:30PM PST on Jan 12, 2012

This is shocking. How did these "teachers" of special education classes get their jobs in the first place? Are they on parole from the local prison? It certainly does not appear they understand their jobs or the students in their charge.

4:19PM PST on Jan 12, 2012

I cant believe that these teachers got away with something like that........

1:55PM PST on Jan 11, 2012

Barbara M

I have had the exact opposite experience with my son. I have tried to teach him and train him his entire life but the school will never try to hold him to any kind of behavior there and then when he acts up he is yelled at and belittled by his teachers. He is bright but they refuse to attempt to teach him anything at all. He has ADHD and OCD but it is not so bad that he could not be taught. They simply do not try. They even use "wrist assistance" to make it look like he has scored well on exams rather than be held accountable for their failure to teach him.

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