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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

ERs as Timeout Rooms

Legal Services NYC (LSNYC) and Cuti Hecker Wang LLP have filed a lawsuit on behalf of six New York City children who have all been repeatedly removed or threatened with removal from school by Emergency Medical Services (EMS) even though they were not in need of emergency medical care. The suit was filed against the City of New York and the Department of Education.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleges that school personnel resort to calling EMS in response to tantrums and other behavior problems because the school system lacks procedures and its staff lacks training for appropriately assisting and calming children in those circumstances. In numerous instances, school and EMS personnel insisted on transporting the children, who were calm by the time EMS arrived, and most of whom are between five and seven years old, to hospitals against the express wishes of their families. As a result, these students have not only been removed from school against their wills, they have also been traumatized by unnecessary trips to emergency rooms and deprived of valuable instructional time.

LSNYC advocates have seen a steady increase recently in the number of children removed from their classrooms and taken by ambulance to ERs for emotional disturbances that do not involve the threat of harm to themselves or others. In each school year from 2009-2010 through 2011-2012, schools called EMS regarding over 3,000 students due to alleged disruptive behaviors. Over those three school years, the number of EMS calls due to alleged disruptive behaviors increased each year. By 2011-2012, there were over 3,600 calls from schools to EMS for students with alleged disruptive behaviors. The majority of students removed by EMS are students with disabilities.
The Wall Street Journal reports:
More than 22% of the 15,130 calls for ambulances placed by schools in the 2011-12 school year were related to disciplinary infractions, according to Legal Services NYC, which sued the Department of Education and Fire Department of New York for the data.
Nelson Mar, an attorney for Legal Services NYC who is representing the parents, said fire department protocols say that children can be transported by EMS against a parent's wishes only when the child's life is at stake, or if it is clear that even a small delay will jeopardize the child's health.
"In some ways the schools are treating the hospital emergency rooms as timeout rooms," he said.

One mother suing the city, whose son has autism, said the frequent calls to pick up her son forced her to stay close to school to try to prevent the frequent hospital trips.
"My life was basically just dropping him off, staying in the area, not doing anything else, walking to the library," said the mother, who asked not to be named.