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

A few months ago, the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act (H.R. 2427) passed the U.S. House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support, and not a moment to soon, as a recent judgment in a case involving the alleged abuse of seven autistic students by a Pennsylvania public school teacher attests.

As reported in the May 29 Philadelphia Inquirer, a $5 million settlement was awarded to the seven students in a federal civil rights suit. The children (who were aged 5 – 11 years old during the time that the alleged abuse occurred) were students at Clarks Summit Elementary School in the Abington Heights School District in the Scranton area. Their parents contend that, during the 2001-02 and 2002-03 school years,  teacher Susan Comerford Wzorek slapped them, pulled the children by the hair, ‘deliberately stepped on the insoles of their feet,’ and tied them to chairs with duct tape and bungee cords. The lawsuit was filed in 2006.

Wzorek is now retired; after the allegations surfaced, she entered a plea of no-contest plea to a criminal charge of recklessly endangering the welfare of children and was sentenced to probation. Wrozek ended up serving 30 days in the Lackawanna County jail for a probation violation.

Said James J. Conaboy, lawyer for several of the children: ‘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.’ Another lawyer for the families, Larry Moran, said in the Times-Tribune that ‘This was a precious, fragile, crucial time in [the students'] lives, starting school where they were supposed to be able to learn’; it is noted that ‘a lifetime of extra and therapy for the scarred students’ will be necessary.

I can vouch by these statements. 

My own son (he is Charlie, 13 years old and moderately to severely autistic) was physically restrained—sometimes in what was recorded as ‘four person floor control‘— on a regular basis while a student in an autism classroom in a public middle school in a New Jersey school district. In many cases, we were often only informed that such restraints had been used several days (over two weeks, once) afterwards. 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. 

My son is minimally verbal but not able to tell us verbally what had happened. We would only know from changes in his behavior which might manifest themselves days or weeks after physical restraints had been used due to the time it takes my son takes to process experiences. Charlie has a number of behavioral challenges. For the past year and more, these have been in part a post-traumatic response to the regular, systematic use of restraints in his previous school program. These challenges can and have been successfully addressed through teaching that not only uses behavioral principles (such as ABA, ‘applied behavior analysis’), but compassion and a constant effort to understand and maintain the dignity and human rights of disabled students. 

Charlie is now doing well in his new school and at home.

Restraint of students is tantamount to physical abuse, and leaves scars not only on the bodies of children, but psychological ones. And when the children are, like my son, students with disabilities who are unable to communicate what happened to them and what they feel about it now—the scars can be permanent.

Photo by RJL20.

82 comments

peggy p.
peggy p7 years ago

while i am infuriated at the abuse these poor children suffered and think the punishment should be much much longer, with any teaching or school credentials retracted, and their record public following them to any job, i am just as horrified at the judicial system which seems to consider these acts as minimal!

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Pam C.
Pam C7 years ago

Day after day I read of what seems to be endless abuse of children at the hands of the schools in the US. and am truly stymied by the things the school employees do and no one seems to be prepared to step up and stop it within the system.

It's long past time for assault charges to be laid, licenses to be revoked, and jail time served. Lawsuits are a given as well as it seems money is the only thing that gets their attention.

That's all I can say without swearing....

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Kim H.
Kim H.8 years ago

My son goes to Abington Heights and is being bulliede by a bus driver and will not ride the bus anymore. It has been going on for 20 years with her. We have contacted Abington Heights, the bus company, the local police, the state police, the members of the school board, and now the attorney who represented these poor children in the same school district. I followed the bus and she has reached speeds over 62 mph in a 35mph zone. The kids get yelled at for laughing and coughing and are threatened to be thrown off the bus and left to walk home in the country. She makes fun of small children. Parents have taken her to a magistrate but she continues to sit behind the wheel. Abington Heights admitted to me she is a danger. The bus company admitted she is a danger. Now she stops the bus and screams at me in my own yard with kids on her bus. Abington Heights is a corrupt district and a kid is going to die on her bus. I've seen it first hand when my son was bullied and the principal and superintendent did not want to help until I forced them. I feel for these parents. It is 100 percent true that Abington fails to act and for some strange reason covers up this driver's actions and puts her behind the wheel. Mark my words here. A child is going to die on her bus at Abington Heights due to her negligence and Abington Heights is ignoring the problem again. I am not afraid to take on this school for my kids and every other kid on her bus now and in the future.

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Philippa P.
Philippa P8 years ago

The sentence did not fit the crime. What she did was deserving of jail time. She should also have had her teacher's license revoked.

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Beng Kiat Low
low beng kiat8 years ago

Thanks

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Victoria B.
Victoria B8 years ago

ARE THESE PEOPLE SO DEVOID OF INTELLIGENCE THAT THEY HAVE TO RESORT TO THIS BEHAVIOUR. THIS ABUSE IS REALLY SERIOUS, AND YES, I AGREE WITH SHAKIMA,.J - WAS THAT THE ONLY SORT OF ABUSE THAT WENT ON? AND HOW SICKENING FOR THE PARENTS. AS FAR AS THE TEACHERS ARE CONCERNED, WOULD TWO WEEKS IN A STRAIGHT JACKET BE A SUITABLE LEARNING CURVE FOR THEM TO START TO UNDERSTAND WHAT IT FEEL LIKE, IT IS THE ONLY WAY THESE PEOPLE WILL LEARN, THEY OBVIOUSLY HAVN'T GOT NATURAL EMPATHY, AND 30 DAYS IS TOO SHORT. 6 MONTHS MINIMUM.

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Jackie T.
Jackie Tucker8 years ago

I have been a special education teacher for seven years, and was the parent of an autistic child for 17 years, and I am appalled that a teacher would treat a student this way. This teacher does not have any business working with students with disabilities. She needs to lose her certification and find something else to do.

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Christina Webb
.8 years ago

She was sentenced to probation and thats it, she was beating them up, disabled kids. Just beating them up and no time? The 30 days came from a violation of that. Makes me sad for those childrens' future health and healing.

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Amy Vetter
Amy Vetter8 years ago

I am disgusted and physically ill at the thought of what these children had to endure. 30 days is nothing in comparison to the lifetime of anguish they have to remember. An eye for an eye...

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Jessica K.
Jessica K8 years ago

there is something particularly sick about anyone who abuses any person or creature that is helpless to defend themselves...

reminds me of lawmakers who want to strip the minimal benefits that make it possible for disabled Americans to survive, but that's another issue...

anyway, my point..just...sick, sick sick sick. Probation? 30 days? This woman has not been punished.

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