In The Politics of Autism, I write:Brian Fanney writes at Arkansas Online:
No federal laws specifically restrict restraint and seclusion in public and private schools and there are widely divergent laws at the state level [i] Thirty-two states require parental notification when disabled students are subject to these measures, but 18 states and the District of Columbia have no such protection.[ii] And even where notification laws are in place, compliance may be spotty.[iii] A U.S. Senate report offers some disturbing examples of alleged abuse:
- In December 2011, a Kentucky school district restrained a nine year-old child with autism in a duffel bag as punishment. The child’s mother witnessed him struggling inside the bag while a teacher's aide stood by and did nothing.
- In North Carolina, the mother of a five-year-old girl with autism and other developmental disabilities agreed to the use of restraints only in the event that her daughter became aggressive. [S]he discovered that her daughter had been left alone and strapped to chair, even though she had shown no signs of aggressive behavior. Although the mother believed her daughter was restrained over ninety percent of the time she was at school, the school denied restraining the child on a regular basis. The school eventually released records showing that the IEPs of multiple special education students did not accurately discuss the types of interventions being used or were otherwise incomplete.
- A behavior analyst in Connecticut recommended brief time-outs for an eight-year-old girl with autism and other disabilities. However, when the girl’s mother realized that the time-outs had escalated to repeated seclusion in a small cinderblock room, she requested that the school discontinue their use. The behavior analyst opted to continue the seclusion and the school supported this decision. The mother said that she felt “powerless” to stop them.
[i] U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Seclusion and Restraints: Selected Cases of Death and Abuse at Public and Private Schools and Treatment Centers,” GAO-09-719T, May 19, 2009. Online: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09719t.pdf.[ii] Jessica Butler, “How Safe Is the Schoolhouse? An Analysis of State Seclusion and Restraint Laws and Policies,” Autism National Committee, January 20, 2014. Online: http://www.autcom.org/pdf/HowSafeSchoolhouse.pdf.[iii] U.S. Senate, Health , Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, “Dangerous Use of Seclusion and Restraints in Schools Remains Widespread and Difficult to Remedy: A Review of Ten Cases: Majority Committee Staff Report,” February 12, 2014. Online: http://www.help.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Seclusion%20and%20Restraints%20Final%20Report.pdf.
Autistic children are injured in Arkansas public schools because there are no mandatory guidelines on the use of restraints on students, advocates said recently.
Two lawyers -- one from a disability advocacy group and the other with a practice focused on special-needs children -- said Arkansas schools ignore voluntary state guidelines and don't always tell parents when children are restrained.
That can lead to dangerous situations for autistic children, in particular, because their behavior can be more difficult to manage, the lawyers told the Task Force on Autism at its Nov. 20 meeting at the state Capitol.
In one study, the U.S. Department of Education's office of civil rights said students with disabilities represent 12 percent of students in its sample, but nearly 70 percent of the students who are physically restrained by adults in their schools.
"We're seeing injuries of spiral fracture, kids getting injured, kids getting manhandled," said Debra Poulin, legal director at Disability Rights Arkansas. "We see all sorts of crazy things that you just wouldn't really believe."
Theresa Caldwell, a lawyer who specializes in special education law, said parents may not be aware that their children are being restrained. There's no law or regulation that requires schools to inform them, she said.
"There's absolutely no oversight so that means we don't know the number of autistic kids that have been physically restrained," she said. "We don't know how much it's happening. The schools themselves do not have to keep track of it."