Restraints and isolation seem like the type of punishments you see in prison movies and stories about psychiatry hospitals, not an occurrence at your local school. Yet an investigation shows that the practice is happening far more often than many know, and that the most likely victims are students of color and those with special needs.
Writing at TruthOut, Eleanor Bader cites a new report by ProPublica showing there are no limits, rules or regulations when it comes to how, when and how often a school can restrain students it deems are acting out in a classroom. “Yes, it sounds like something out of Dickens, but these tactics are far from unusual,” writes Bader. “In fact, ProPublica documented 267,000 instances in which kids as young as four were subjected to these tactics in 2012 alone. Even more appalling, in the two decades between 1992 and 2012, at least 20 children have died as a result of injuries sustained in isolation rooms or from restraints. An after-the-fact lawsuit is small comfort to their grieving families.”
How can 20 children be so grievously injured that they lost their lives? “Restraining” tactics, according to the ProPublica report, range from tying children with objects like bungee cords and duct tape to “pinning them facedown on the floor.”
Unsurprisingly, there is a racial component involved, according to Bader. “[T]he disparity starts early. While African-American kids comprise 18 percent of pre-K students nationwide, they receive 48 percent of pre-K suspensions. Yes, you read this correctly: This is happening to 3- and 4-year-olds. Not surprisingly, as they get older, black students represent 31 percent of those subjected to school-related arrests, placing them squarely on what has become known as the school-to-prison pipeline.”
Care2′s Kristina Chew has reported for years on the excessive force being used on children in schools under the guise of correcting their misbehaving. In 2010, seven autistic students in Pennsylvania received a $5 million settlement after being restrained with bungee cords and duct tape. The restraining was just the tip of systematic abuse by one teacher, which also involved slapping, hair pulling and stepping on their feet and which allegedly occurred for years. “These children were nonverbal, so they were not in a position to go home and tell their parents what was happening………[The parents] were sending their children to a virtual torture chamber for two years,” said their lawyer.
Chew wrote about her own experience with her son being restrained as well. “In many cases, we were often only informed that such restraints had been used several days (over two weeks, once) afterwards,” wrote Chew. “While it had been discussed that procedures such as restraints would only be used as part of ‘crisis management,’ these were used regularly and their use was, again, belatedly and inconsistently reported to my husband and me.”
Research also shows that these incidents occur more commonly at “affluent” schools than regular schools, although the reasons for that are unclear. “In wealthy districts, where the focus is often on positive student outcomes, high test scores and progression to college, educators may be more focused on not allowing disabled students to disrupt their classes,” suggests Care2′s s.e. smith. ”Consequently, they may feel a push to promote restraint and seclusion for such students, rather than full integration into the classroom as equals, and as a result, overall statistics when it comes to these techniques could be higher in such environments.” Smith also suggests that lower income schools may have more issues with resources, and that restraint and isolation is too “staff intensive” to be practiced as much as it is in wealthier districts.
Congressional bills have been proposed to try to set boundaries and regulation on what can and can’t be done to students in school, such as the Keeping All Students Safe Act and similar bills. Yet a final bill has never been passed and signed into law. With 20 children dying and since 1992, Congress needs to act now and put restraints where they belong — on the schools that are using excessive force.
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