In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the use of restraint and seclusion. It is a big problem in Texas.
“Unfortunately, restraints are very common,” said Elbe, the attorney for Disability Rights Texas. “It happens in large and small schools. It happens in high schools and at the elementary level.”
Texas law allows staff members to physically restrain special education students if there is a threat of “imminent, serious physical harm” to themselves or others or there’s a chance of serious property destruction. But Elbe said those terms are often vague and, in several cases, translate to persistent misbehavior.
The law also states that restraint must be limited to reasonable force and stop when the emergency no longer exists. School employees aren’t allowed to use mechanical restraints such as handcuffs, but peace officers who contract with the district, as is the case with Denton ISD, are.
Schools are required to make a “good faith effort” to verbally contact the parents when restraint is used. They must also provide parents a written report within one day of the restraint. In the April 30 incident at Lee, officials sent the report two days later.
According to TEA numbers, Denton ISD met the state average by restraining six out of every 100 special needs students during the 2016-17 school year. At the county level, the number jumped to 14 out of every 100 students.
A student’s disability could affect their chances of being restrained.
Denton ISD restrained 24 of every 100 students diagnosed with autism and 32 out of every 100 students diagnosed with an emotional behavior disorder. Denton County restrained 38 percent of its autistic population and 59 percent of its emotional behavior population, while the state restrained 12 percent of kids diagnosed with autism and half of the kids who had an emotional behavior disorder.
“If a student was hard of hearing, you wouldn’t punish them for not hearing directions to sit down in their chair,” said Diane Myers, the chairwoman of the teacher education department at Texas Woman’s University. “With students who have emotional behavior disabilities or are on the spectrum, not being able to control their behavior is part of their disability."