17 July 2008

Great NY Times Article on Restraining Kids at School

This week the New York Times had a very interesting article on restraining in school, called "Calm Down Or Else." Before reading this story, I actually thought that the use of restraint on children in school was reserved for situations in which someone's safety was at risk (i.e. a student attempting to injure himself or another student). In fact, schools use restraining as a disciplinary measure for behavior problems as minor as "noncompliance." Restraining is primarily used on students with disabilities that affect their behavior (for example autism, ADD, ADHD, cognitive impairment, psychiatric disorders).

Some examples of these disciplinary measures included in the article are a twelve year old held "face down on the floor, straddling him at his hips, and holding his hands behind his back," a 'takedown' holding a preteen with Asperger Syndrome on the floor "prone for 20 minutes until he stopped struggling," and "an 8-year-old with a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder and mild mental retardation repeatedly locked in a 'seclusion room' alone, adjacent to the classroom." Students have actually been killed while being restrained by adults at school responsible for their care. I have personally known parents who have gone to court to try and prevent the school district from using physical restraining on their child.

The article tries to explain why these incidents are occurring. Compared to a decade ago, there are many more children identified as 'special education' students. Staff aren't trained to manage severe behavior situations, and yet they have to maintain safety in the classroom and teach their students. The use of physical restraint in schools has very little oversight, unlike nursing homes or psychiatric facilities, so most of these incidents of abuse are going unnoticed. The author concluded that school districts and state authorities need to provide adequate training and guidance on what disciplinary techniques are appropriate and safe in order to provide for students with special needs.

It pretty much goes without saying that using physical aggression on elementary age kids, some of whom can't even talk, is barbaric. This is coming from someone who has been kicked, punched, slapped, bitten, head-butted, chased, spat on, screamed at, intentionally urinated on, called every insult you know and probably a few you don't, and had the contents of my desk flung across my office, by kids and adults with developmental disabilities while at work. The job is hard, sometimes frustrating, and often low-paying. There will always be people with developmental disabilities who get frustrated and use aggression.

But. I have never put my hands on a person entrusted to my care with the intent to physically dominate them, frighten them, or perform a "takedown." There are almost always better or gentler solutions.

When I was just a little sprout (in the eighties!), in Indiana the local schools were just coming to the end of an era where paddling in schools was considered appropriate and encouraged. It's still legal in that state, but currently banned in the majority of US states. My elementary principal kept a paddle conspicuously visible in her office and, though it was rarely used, just the thought of it terrified us. Even the kids whose parents used corporal punishment at home were afraid of her. I can't imagine the fear that a child with a cognitive disability who doesn't understand the situation would feel for a large adult pinning them face down on a gym mat for up to twenty minutes at a time. Then every day at school the child must face the person who did that to them and try to have trust in that person, or face yet more physical punishment.

Now go read the article!


william Peace said...

What a great post. As the father of a 16 year old teen I am disgusted with elementary and secondary schools. Corporal punishment is becoming increasingly rare and has been replaced by chemical restraints. Far too many children in my view are medicated at an early age. Schools are complicit in this as they often advocate the use of medication to control students. What I see in public schools is an overwhelming focus on social control in the form of medication, standardized testing, and reliance on busy work. Children are no longer encouraged to be creative and hone their analytical skills. Instead, the children who are perceived to be "gifted" are those that conform and do exactly what they are told. This may make schools appear successful but the downside is significant. We are raising a generation of students ill prepared to learn, think independently, and are unwilling to accept or even tolerate difference of any sort.

Sassee B said...

Great article about kids at school... but where's the article about kids at home? There are just as many parents who are the opposite extreme - won't discipline their children for fear of not being their kid's friend anymore or being perceived as abusive. It adds to the teacher's stress levels to have those kids in class, and is probably one of the causes of this increase of extreme and unnecessary discipline in the classroom. If we're going to fix the problem, it's got to be from both sides.

Carolyn Yates said...


There's restraint, and there's punishment, and there's being an idiot, and the measures taken, according to that article/your post, are definitely category three. I just find it hard to believe no one's been sued over this.

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