When I read the following note from the Southern Poverty Law Center in my email box, I had to check to see what year this was. Yes, it’s 2010, not 1800s London, not the time of Charles Dickens and his poorhouses, orphanages, and schools modeled on torture chambers. I do not exaggerate. Read on.
It’s not right for a 6-year-old boy to be handcuffed and shackled to a chair by an armed security officer because he “acted up” in school. But that’s exactly what happened at the Sarah T. Reed Elementary School in New Orleans. In keeping with our work to reform the abusive juvenile justice system in the Deep South, we’ve filed a lawsuit against the school district to stop the brutal and unconstitutional policy of chaining students who break minor school rules.
Our client, J.W., is a typical first-grader. He’s just four feet tall and weighs 60 pounds. He enjoys playing basketball, being read to by his parents, coloring and playing outside with friends. But his school treated him like an animal. Within one week, he was twice forcibly arrested, handcuffed and shackled to a chair for talking back to a teacher and later arguing with a classmate over a seat….Shockingly, this level of punishment is official school policy….
Unfortunately, J.W.’s story is hardly unique. All across the nation, schools have adopted draconian “zero-tolerance” policies that treat children like criminals and turn schools into prison-like environments. The primary function of school is to help educate our children so that they can become productive, well-informed adults. These policies do just the opposite — they seize on any opportunity to criminalize behavior and eject children from schools, driving up dropout rates.
Since being chained and shackled, J.W. has become withdrawn and afraid to go to school. His counselor reports that he has been “deeply affected and traumatized.” We’re determined to hold the school and school district accountable for what they’ve done and to stop their barbaric treatment of children so that no one else suffers like J.W.
There is no Federal law against the use of seclusion and restraints in the schools. Here’s what Senator Dianne Feinstein has to say about it:
A May 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that there have been hundreds of cases of alleged abuse or death related to the use of these methods in the classroom in the last two decades. State laws and regulations vary widely on this issue, and in California, it is required that selected staff receive training before using restraints and that a parent receive notice after a restraint has been used.
How enlightened of California! Teachers are trained in restraint techniques, and parents are notified afterwards! Not to fret: Congress is on the case:
On December 9, 2009, Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) introduced the “Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act” (S. 2860), which would prohibit school personnel from using physical restraint or seclusion. It would also require schools to develop procedures to quickly notify parents and legal guardians if a child has been subject to restraint or seclusion at school…
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m confused. The bill would ‘prohibit school personnel from using physical restraint or seclusion’ and it would ensure that school personnel ‘quickly notify parents and legal guardians if a child has been subject to restraint or seclusion.’ WTF?
I don’t have miuch to offer in the way of a solution to this stuff. Nor do I see any silver lining in this dark cloud. Our country seems to be moving backwards in many areas, and schools are one more place where the powerful get to do whatever they want to the powerless.
A positive action would be to support organizations like the SPLC. Another is to keep up with what’s going on out there and tell other people about it – that’s why I’m here. What about you?
PS: In Bangla Desh they just banned corporal punishment after a kid committed suicide because of a school beating.