Restraints Still All Too Common In Special Needs Education


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The stories are hard to believe.

They are all true, these stories, and they happen around the world to children with special needs in today’s schools. The stories come from England, from Canada, from Australia, and across the United States.

One parent advocate for special needs education in Canada was speaking to a national TV station about the case of a young autistic boy whose mother currently has a million dollar lawsuit against a local school board.  She described reading some of the stories as aking to “reading a gothic horror story” – and a quick Google search will show she was right.  The case that the media was reporting on is an excellent illustration of the scope of the problem.  The lawsuit names more than two dozen plaintiffs – including classroom staff, educators, and special needs administrators at the executive level for abuse and isolation of a special needs child that went on over a period of several years at several different schools.  This family was no exception, that they would have preferred to have found a solution and happy educational placement for the child without having to turn to the media and a lawsuit but without a special needs advocate for education, the situation became unacceptable.

Families who have children with various challenges and living with exception circumstances send their children to schools, trusting that educators trained in special needs have the best interests of their kids at heart, are finding that their children are being restrained in unsafe ways, in ways that show no compassion or regard for these children or their feelings.  One recent story out of the United States that is indicative of many is of a teacher tying a child by the legs through a chair because he wouldn’t sit still.  While the law allows some restraint of children in extreme circumstances for reasons of safety, in most of these cases, it is pointed out, they are treated this way for classroom behavior that could be considered annoying, but certainly not dangerous… and some of the treatment of these vulnerable children wouldn’t be acceptable under the law in the nation’s roughest prisons – and yet we allow under-trained adults in the classrooms to treat kids in schools this way with little oversight.

In 2015, in special education classrooms around the world, children with special needs are being restrained, traumatized, and terrified.  These are lasting memories that would do damage to any child, especially those identified as needing special care and consideration under the law.  It is a terrible shame that this is the education we are providing to these children.   Recently, the CDE (The California Department of Education) reported that California got an F – for implementing legal restraints on kids with special needs.  Incidents can and do go even further than legal restraints and isolation –  This week, Fox News is reporting that parents are taking Roseville City School District to court for allegations stemming from incidents in 2013 when witnesses said they observed a teacher striking several autistic children about the face, mouth, head and hands.  The families in that case expressed feelings of guilt at not having been able to protect their children from this abuse at school.

Several years ago, George Miller, the Democratic Chairman of the House Education And Labor Committee said: “Something is Very Wrong When are Children are Unsafe at School.”  In 2009, Miller and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Republican from Washington) joined forces to do something about it, with their Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act.  Tom Harkin, Chairman – Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee authored a telling report that is well worth reading, entitled, “Dangerous Use of Seclusion and Restraints in Schools Remains Widespread and Difficult to Remedy: A Review of Ten Cases.”   In a harshly realistic report called THE COST OF WAITING, advocacy group TASH (The Association for persons with Severe Handicaps), points out that we can’t afford inaction as children with special needs “continue to be subjected to abusive practices that result in serious emotional trauma, physical pain and injury, and even death.”   Considering some children with special needs aren’t vocal and can’t express themselves, this is something that must be discussed ahead of time. It is important that all parents understand the issues, and whether they are able to pair with an educational advocate or not, ensure that they stay aware of what might be going on in the classroom.

This is a difficult and frightening topic for the families of children in special needs education, but it’s vitally important to be educated on the realities. Working with a special needs educational advocate is always helpful and will help protect your child’s needs and legal rights so that your child’s educational experience remains a positive one.